DOR BEACH, Israel, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday inaugurated the foundation of the Leviathan natural gas rig, effectively stomping out protests from residents and environmentalists who say it is too close to shore.
Leviathan, discovered in 2010, is one of the world's largest gas discoveries of the past decade. The rig's foundation, known as a platform jacket, arrived on a barge that sailed from Texas. Its topside is expected in several months. It is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
"Israel is becoming an energy power. Israel is independent, and is not dependent on anyone for its energy needs," Netanyahu told reporters at the site, about 120 km (75 miles) off Israel's Mediterranean coast.
Leviathan will be connected by a subsea pipeline to a production platform much closer to shore, just 10 km from a popular beach, angering some opposition lawmakers, environmentalists and residents.
They have demanded, with several unsuccessful petitions to Israel's Supreme Court, that the rig be pushed farther out to sea. But the arrival of the platform's massive legs effectively stomps out the protest and any doubt it created around the completion of Israel's largest energy project ever.
The project operator, Texas-based Noble Energy has a 39.66 percent stake in the field, while Israel's Delek Drilling holds a 45.34 percent share, and Ratio Oil has the remaining 15 percent.
Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Elaine Hardcastle