Exxon working with Israel to develop floating LNG export facility

By Yaacov Benmeleh on 4/10/2019
LNG tanker preparing to dock for fueling.

TEL AVIV (Bloomberg) -- Exxon Mobil is in discussions to build a platform that would expand the export reach of Israel’s biggest natural gas field.

The world’s largest publicly-traded oil and gas company is in talks with Israeli authorities about developing the country’s Leviathan reservoir by building floating liquefied natural gas ship. Such a project would allow the Leviathan partners to export to countries not reachable with pipelines and avoid the need to build expensive infrastructure to connect to LNG facilities in Egypt. It’s possible the discussions ultimately won’t lead to a partnership, the people cautioned.

An Exxon representative said the company was still evaluating its options.

“It’s too early to comment on specific development and production timelines,” the representative said.

Despite considerable gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean region over the past decade, viable export routes have proven tough to find and global energy firms haven’t rushed in. The Leviathan partners have signed deals to meet surging demand in Egypt, Jordan and Israel, but haven’t yet found a way to export to Europe or East Asia.

The partners developing Leviathan, a deep-sea find of about 600 billion cubic meters -- at the time it was found, the biggest underwater gas discovery in a decade -- have bookmarked the next phase of the reservoir’s development for export deals and are examining ways to reach markets outside the region. Delek Drilling, the biggest shareholder in the Leviathan field, is looking into several options, such as buying a stake in one of Egypt’s LNG sites.

The talks with Exxon are the latest sign that an unofficial energy boycott on Israel, imposed by leading Arab countries, is fading. Energy majors that partner with big Arab firms have hesitated to do business with Israel in the past, for fear of risking ties with states that control some of the world’s biggest energy reserves and have been hostile toward Israel until now.

Those concerns seem to be dissipating. Israel and Persian Gulf states have found common cause against Iran, leading some Arab leaders, such as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, to break longstanding diplomatic taboos on Israel. Covert trade with the Arab world, mainly involving Israel’s technology sector, also has grown.

For Exxon, expanding into Israel would reflect the company’s growing ambitions in the East Med, an area that straddles Egyptian, Israeli, Lebanese and Cypriot waters. Exxon established a foothold in the region in February, when it found an offshore reservoir in Cypriot waters that’s about one-third the size of Leviathan.

Exxon recently spoke with Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz about participating in an upcoming tender for new offshore drilling blocs, according to people familiar with the matter.

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