JERUSALEM (JTA) — Texas-based Noble Energy will begin developing Israel’s offshore Leviathan gas field.
The company will begin immediately with the first phase of the project, and said in a statement issued Thursday that it expects the first gas to flow in 2019.
Leviathan, discovered in 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea west of Haifa, is estimated to hold 16 trillion to 18 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Nobel works in partnership with the Israeli firm Delek Drilling on the Leviathan project.
“Bringing Leviathan online will expand Israel’s supply of natural gas, further support the State’s commitment to convert coal-fired power generation facilities to cleaner burning gas, and provide affordable energy resources to Israeli citizens and neighboring countries in the undersupplied region,” Noble CEO David Stover said in the statement.
Thousands of Israelis protested the deal after it was announced several years ago and called for the gas fields to be nationalized, concerned that the gas consortium would keep prices high and agree to export much of the gas.
The country’s Anti-Trust Authority ruled in 2015 that the consortium developing Leviathan could be a monopoly. Israel’s antitrust commissioner resigned in protest of the plan.
To approve the deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who at the time was serving as the economy minister following the resignation of Aryeh Deri over the issue, invoked a clause in the Restrictive Trade Practices Law that allows the economy minister to approve a monopoly if it is a matter of national security.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu welcomed the announcement with a post on Twitter.
“This is a day of good news for the Israeli economy and Israeli citizens,” he tweeted. “The process will provide gas supply to Israel, and will advance cooperation with regional states.”