* Israeli firms sign deal to export gas to Jordan
* 15-year deal expected to be worth $10 billion
(Adds details on regional gas ties in paragraphs 2,7)
By Ari Rabinovitch
JERUSALEM, Sept 26 Backers of Israel's massive
Leviathan natural gas field signed a $10 billion deal on Monday
to supply 1.6 trillion feet (tcf) of gas to Jordan's National
Electric Power Company.
The deal marks a significant step forward in Israel's
efforts to exploit its offshore gas reserves, although it is
still looking for a partnership with Egypt or Turkey, or both,
which would give it far more export volume and the possibility
of linking up with markets in Europe.
"Subject to regulatory approvals from Israel and Jordan,
sales ... are anticipated to commence," said Texas-based Noble
Energy, the project's operator.
Talks on the contract began more than two years ago.
The 15-year deal for Leviathan, which holds an estimated 22
tcf of gas, should help the U.S.-Israeli group secure funds to
bring it online.
Production is expected to begin around 2019 or 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often played up
Israel's potential as an economic partner with Sunni Arab
countries in the region.
In that respect, the deal with Jordan represents a
breakthrough. While Israel and Jordan signed a peace deal in
1994, relations are not always good, but as economic ties
deepen, Israel hopes they will become firmer.
The Leviathan group has also been in talks to export much
more gas to companies in Egypt, and there have been contacts
with Turkey, Cyprus and Greece on potential cooperation, either
for the export or trans-shipment of gas.
Shares in the Israeli partners - which include Ratio Oil
, Delek Group and its subsidiaries Avner
Oil and Delek Drilling - rose around five
percent on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange following the
Leviathan, discovered in the eastern Mediterranean in 2010,
is one of the world's largest offshore gas discoveries of the
past decade. Egypt has also made large offshore finds in the
past year, boosting expectations for East Mediterranean gas.
Last year, Israel approved plans for a 15.5 kilometre (9.6
mile) pipeline near the Dead Sea to export gas to Jordan.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Additional reporting by Steven
Scheer; Editing by Jason Neely and William Hardy)