Israel is inviting international oil companies to further explore its offshore waters for natural gas, Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz announced on Tuesday November 10, reported the Wall Street Journal.

“We believe that based on the geological data—from our own experts and global companies—that there is still the potential for new discoveries,” Steinitz told reporters in Jerusalem.

He added that he had met senior executives of more than 20 energy companies, including Eni SpA, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Hess Corp. in this regard.

In response to this claim Shell’s head of gas Maarten Wetselaar said “We are not in the gas business in Israel and have no immediate plans to explore or produce gas there”.

Representatives for Eni, Exxon and Hess also didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment.

Steinitz was also quoted by Oil & Gas Investor  saying that experts estimate there are between 10,000 and 15,000 bcm of gas in the East Mediterranean basin — which includes Israel, Egypt and Cyprus — enough to supply domestic needs as well as Europe.

Steinitz explained that only 25-30% of Israel’s economic waters have been properly investigated and that it might take up to 6 months to resume exploration. Nonetheless “We do have serious interest in investing in Tanin and Karish, and maybe Tamar … and in exploring in our economic waters.”

“My intent is to reopen Israel’s economic waters for exploration,” he said, while noting that Leviathan’s development remains a top priority.

As for the resignation of Economy Minister Aryeh Deri last week, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu control of the ministry, Steinitz said he expects Netanyahu to sign the waiver to bypass antitrust concerns by the end of 2015.

According to Al-Arabia protesters broke out in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba over the resignation, with approximately 4,000 demonstrators holding signs against the “gas theft,” waving Israeli flags and chanting “this is our gas.”

Demonstrators in Tel Aviv targeted traffic on a major artery and had to be pushed back by police.

Knesset member Dov Khenin, a member of the Arab Joint List, participated in the Haifa rally, warning that the agreement would corrupt the government, which would be subject to Noble and Delek’s control.

The agreement would “gift away our natural resources to tycoons,” he said.

“This struggle is not only economic and social, but also over democracy, since there can be no democracy under the rule of money,” Khenin noted.

The original framework agreement approved by lawmakers in August allows Houston-based Noble Energy and Israeli conglomerate Delek Group to keep control of the yet to be developed Leviathan field in exchange for Delek selling its stake in Tamar.

Noble is also required to reduce its stake in the field from 36% to 25%. Both companies will also have to sell their holdings in two smaller sites, Tanin and Karish.

The development of Israel’s offshore gas fields had been delayed for a year because of objections from Israel’s anti-trust authority. Economy Minister Deri had refused to overrule the authority verdict.