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JERUSALEM, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Israel's largest energy project started production on Tuesday, paving the way for multi-billion dollar natural gas export deals with Egypt and Jordan to begin in the coming weeks.
Gas began flowing from the massive offshore Leviathan field in the early morning after regulatory delays and court petitions by groups opposing the project raised doubts that the field's operators would meet their end of 2019 timeline.
But on the last day of the year, Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel's Delek Drilling and Ratio Oil announced that operations had commenced, effectively doubling the amount of Israeli-produced gas. The partners invested about $3.6 billion to develop Leviathan.
"Israel is now an energy powerhouse, able to supply all its energy needs and gaining energy independence," said Delek Drilling Chief Executive Officer Yossi Abu.
Gas exports are expected to follow shortly.
The supply of gas from Leviathan wells, located 130 kilometers west of the port city of Haifa, enables the displacement of coal for electricity generation in Israel.
The gas from Leviathan will be transported from the production platform via a subsea pipeline connected to Israel's transmission system and from there to gas consumers throughout the country. ($1 = 3.4563 shekels) (Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Tova Cohen)