Investors should be cautious and differentiate between concepts and reality, says chairman of gas explorer.
By Eytan Avriel Haaretz
The probability that natural gas will be found in the deepwater prospects being explored by Noble Energy and Delek Group – the Leviathan prospect – is 10% to 15%. That is a probability, which by definition does not mean “sure thing.” However, says Charles Davidson, CEO of Noble Energy, he hesitates to talk about the prospect because some people in Israel relate to announcements of potential as though they were announcements of actual discoveries.
“That worries me,” he said on a panel on oil and gas exploration at a conference of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in London on Thursday: Oil exploration is a high-risk business.
What Noble does, Davidson said, is manage risk in a portfolio of opportunities. Investors should be cautious and differentiate between concepts and reality. Reality is the gas discovered at Tamar.
At the lowest part of the areas the partners looked at, there is the potential of oil, but – Davidson stressed – that doesn’t mean there is oil there. It has never been tested.
Systems of the type down there can produce oil, Davidson said, but one has to check whether a reservoir of trapped liquids of the type is actually there.
Gideon Tadmor, CEO of Delek Energy, fielded a question about the difference between investment in fossil-fuel exploration for the long-term, and as a speculative investment. In his view the difference lies in the company’s diversification: picking a company involved in one project is speculative. The more projects the company has, the better it is, Tadmor said.
One also has to check the company’s ability to actually do the job, Davidson added. For instance, to drill at Tamar, the partners had to bring in a rig from Africa. By the time the exploration was done, the cost had reached $300 million. Not every company could pull off a job like that.
On the geopolitical risk of drilling in Israeli territorial waters, given claims by Lebanese and Cypriot elements that they own a share, Davidson said Noble employs companies that analyze risks unrelated to the actual drilling, and in their opinion, Israel ranks well. Noble has been working in Israel for 12 years, Davidson said; obviously it feels comfortable about it.
“There are areas more problematic than Israel,” Tadmor added; Israel is relatively safe. “I see no geopolitical risk in our explorations.”
The company plans to resume exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Oil and gas exploration company Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL) will invest $530 million in natural gas exploration in Israel and in development of its current reserves at Yam Tethys and Tamar, said company executives during a conference call on Friday.
During the conference call, which followed the publication of Noble Energy’s financial report for the fourth quarter of 2009, Noble Energy chairman and CEO Chuck Davidson said, “Late in the year, we anticipate resuming exploration in the Eastern Med, looking to build on our tremendous success that we’ve had already there in Israel.”
The reference is to economic zones of Israel and Cyprus, probably at the company’s Leviathan license, west of Tamar. Leviathan is jointly owned by Noble Energy, Delek Group Ltd. (TASE: DLEKG), and Ratio Oil Exploration (1992) LP (TASE:RATI.L). Drilling will probably begin after the recently completed 3D seismic study of the strata structure is analyzed.
Noble Energy said that its capital program in 2010 will total $2.5 billion, $1 billion for major projects, most of which will be directed to projects in the Gulf of Mexico, Equatorial Guinea in West Africa, and Tamar.
Noble Energy said that natural gas sales in Israel were 25% lower in 2009 than in 2008. Sales are from the Yam Tethys field offshore from Ashkelon, in which Noble Energy owns 47.1%, with Delek (4.44%) and its subsidiaries Avner Oil and Gas LP (TASE: AVNR.L) (23%) and Delek Drilling LP (TASE: DEDR.L) (25.5%) owning the rest.
Davidson said, “Internationally, we had tremendous exploration success in Israel, with our largest discovery ever at Tamar and subsequent Dalit find. We announced signed letters of content covering $10.5 billion in gross expected revenue, with less a third of resources committed. And we immediately moved forward with the development plans that should lead to the sanction of Tamar this year.”
The Tamar partners today announced that they have signed a third letter of intent for the sale of natural gas to Dimona Silica Industries Ltd. The 17-year contract is worth $500 million. Noble Energy owns 36% of the Tamar prospect, alongside Delek Drilling, Avner Oil, Isramco Ltd. (Nasdaq: ISRL; TASE: ISRA.L), and Dor Alon Energy in Israel (1988) Ltd. (TASE:DRAL) subsidiary Dor Alon Energy Exploration Ltd.
Noble Energy attributed the lower than expected natural gas sales in Israel to warmer than normal weather, increased imports of competing Egyptian gas (from East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG), which began deliveries in early 2009), and because the company’s customer, Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) (TASE: ELEC.B22) had some downtime on one of their power plants.
Investment house Barclays Capital reiterated its “Overweight” rating on Noble Energy stock, and kept its target price for the share at $84. However, it cut its earnings per share estimate as production guidance figures ranged lower than Barclays analysts had expected. They nevertheless maintain that strong future production growth, beginning in 2012, will support the shares.
An Israeli consortium that includes a group largely responsible for the recent discovery of natural gas deposits off the country’s Mediterranean coast plans to begin exploratory drilling for oil at the Dead Sea next month.
The Delek Group headed by Yitzhak Tshuva previously headed the consortium that found billions of dollars worth of natural gas just 50 miles off the coast of the northern Israel city of Haifa. Tshuva is convinced that other sources of energy exist in the country, including oil deposits worth at least half a billion dollars under and around the Dead Sea.
Following his consortium’s natural gas find earlier this year, Tshuva said he believed Israel would very soon become energy independent, and even start exporting natural gas, leading to a major economic revolution in the country.
But Tshuva won’t be alone in his search for oil in Israel. Texas-based, Christian-run Zion Oil & Gas has been searching for oil in Israel since 2000. Founder John Brown says the Bible makes it clear Israel will be energy independent in the last days. The company’s two exploratory drillings have so far given inconclusive results, but have sparked enough optimism for Zion Oil & Gas to continue its operations.