JERUSALEM, May 22 (Reuters) - Israel has approved a deal it hopes will fast-track development of the huge Leviathan offshore natural gas field and end years of regulatory uncertainty that has stifled the country's nascent oil and gas industry.
The Leviathan project hit a major obstacle in March when Israel's Supreme Court blocked a previous agreement that bound the state to the terms of the deal for 10 years. The agreement had meant the government would be committed not to change taxes, export quotas or other regulation.
On Wednesday Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz announced a new deal that gives the state more leeway while offering enough stability for the Leviathan partners, Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel's Delek Group, to resume investments.
The deal was approved on Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting. Steinitz hopes the new phrasing, which allows future governments to decide if policies need to be changed, will stave off other court objections.
Leviathan, one of the largest offshore discoveries of the past decade, was found in the eastern Mediterranean in 2010 and has been mostly earmarked for exports.
The court's objection also rattled the broader exploration sector where companies have been waiting to see how the saga plays out before investing in new offshore drilling.
"After a delay of six years, the revised stability clause will allow not only the advancement of Leviathan's development, but also open the sea to exploration for new gas fields, and ensure Israeli gas exports to neighboring countries and Europe," Steinitz said.
Yossi Abu, chief executive of Delek subsidiaries Delek Drilling and Avner Oil, said the government approval gives "tremendous tailwind to our continued activity to promote the development of Leviathan, in order for Israeli gas to flow from the reservoir by the end of 2019".
Officals at Noble were not available for immediate comment.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Tova Cohen and Keith Weir)
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