JERUSALEM, June 23 (Reuters) - Israel's government on Sunday approved limiting natural gas exports to about 40 percent of the country's newly-discovered offshore reserves.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended months of uncertainty on Wednesday when he said that Israel would keep 60 percent of the gas, or roughly 540 billion cubic metres, for domestic use and allow the rest to be sold abroad.
Netanyahu disappointed environmental groups and opposition lawmakers who have called for even stricter limitations, saying his government had found the right balance that ensures Israel's energy security for a few decades while still satisfying exploration companies seeking access to the global market.
"We did the right thing for Israel. Without gas exports, there will not be gas for the domestic market," Netanyahu said in broadcasted remarks at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting.
"This mistake, this surrender to populism - 'let's save the gas for ourselves'. A number of countries did this, and they saved the gas for themselves. It's still buried, under the ground and water, beneath layers of populism and bureaucracy," he said.
Exploration companies had lobbied strongly for a large export quota, saying the Israeli market alone was too small to warrant further investment in developing the fields.
Two of the world's largest offshore fields found in the past decade lie in Israeli waters. Tamar, with an estimated 280 bcm, was discovered in 2009, and a year later Leviathan, was found with an estimated 530 bcm. (Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Greg Mahlich)