A U.S.-Israeli consortium drilling in the eastern Mediterranean said on Sunday it had found "initial indications" of natural gas at a field called Dolphin 1, as Israel steps up its search for alternatives to Egyptian energy.
Since an uprising ousted President Mubarak in February, a series of attacks on the Sinai pipeline transporting Egyptian natural gas to Israel has made the Jewish state increasingly anxious to secure other sources.
Ratio Oil, one of the partners in the exploration group, reported to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that "initial indications" show the sands at a drill site some 110 km off Israel's coast, contain natural gas.
The company said it was too early to determine the size of the gas layer and the quality of the reservoir. An earlier assessment provided by a consulting firm estimated that Dolphin 1 contained 0.55 trillion cubic feet of gas (tcf).
That is much smaller than the nearby Tamar field, discovered in 2009 to have 8.4 tcf of gas, which sparked an exploration frenzy in the eastern Mediterranean's Levant Basin.
Israel has ordered energy companies to speed up drilling to help stave of a temporary gas shortage that is expected to hit before production begins at Tamar in about two year's time.
The Egyptian pipeline carrying gas through the Sinai and on to Jordan and Israel has been the target of six sabotage attempts by unidentified militants since February, stalling supplies for a total of more than seven weeks.
A report in Israel business paper The Marker this week claimed the pipeline is now operating at 70 per cent of its former rate.
During Mubarak's rule, Egypt supplied 43 per cent of Israel's natural gas, with 40 per cent of Israel's electricity coming from this source.
But the constant disruptions since Egypt's uprising have led Israeli officials to look elsewhere.
"The figures highlight Israel's need to ensure energy independence. This is the primary objective we've set,” Israel’s infrastructure minister, Uzi Landau was quoted as saying by Globes, another Israeli economic newsite, in early October.
Landau indicated that Israel should move fast on the construction of a land gas pipeline and switch to using renewable fuels to generate electricity.
Texas-based Noble Energy has a 39.66 per cent stake in the Dolphin prospect. Avner Oil and Delek Drilling each own 22.67 per cent. Ratio Oil owns 15 per cent.
The same group made the world's largest off-shore discovery of the past decade at the Leviathan site last year, which is estimated to have 16 tcf of natural gas.