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Israel seeks foreign partners to help develop its gas fields

The loss of cut-rate natural gas supplies from Egypt has spurred Israel into stepping up development of its newly discovered offshore fields

AFP, Thursday 29 Mar 2012
Israel rig
Offshore gas is Israel's hope for energy security (Photo: Reuters)

With its huge offshore natural gas deposits, Israel is hoping to become an energy El Dorado, and is seeking foreign partners to help develop its newly-discovered resources.

Egypt had been meeting about 43 per cent of the Jewish state's natural gas needs, but supply has been repeatedly disrupted over the past year due to sabotage of the pipeline in the Egyptian Sinai.
"All parties with expertise and know-how in prospecting, extraction and infrastructure are welcome," Shaul Tzemah, head of Israel's energy ministry told delegates at a seminar on Wednesday to pitch the idea to major French energy firms.
"It's now or never -- if you want a presence, there are opportunities to be grasped," he told the audience, which included representatives of Electricité de France (EDF), Suez-Gaz de France and Technip.
Israel's Delek Energy and US firm Noble Energy have struck gas offshore at the Tamar and Leviathan fields, 130 kilometres off the Mediterranean port city of Haifa, and more recently at the nearby Tanin 1 field.
Leviathan is believed to hold some 450 billion cubic metres of gas while Tamar has reserves of up to 238 billion cubic metres. Tanin 1 could yield up to 34 billion cubic metres, Delek and Nobel estimated last year.
In yet another discovery last June, Israel's Hachshara Energy said it had found two new natural gas fields, Sarah and Mira, around 70 kilometres off Hadera, slightly further south.
Initial tests indicate the latest finds could hold around 184 billion cubic metres.
In total, Tzemah believes Israel's overall gas reserves could be over a trillion cubic metres (35 trillion cubic feet).
How these resources can best be exploited is yet to be decided.
An official commission must within the next two months present its conclusions on how much gas will be used in Israel and how much exported, most likely to Europe.
"Our domestic market is limited. If we decide to export and can therefore offer opportunities to make more money, we can more easily attract foreign groups who will need to make heavy investments," said Eugene Kandel, president of Israel's National Economic Council.
The government has announced the creation of the first Israeli sovereign fund, which will receive royalties, and revenue from a special tax on gas and oil profits.
"This fund will constitute a reserve for the future which will be entirely invested abroad. It will reach about $80 billion by 2040," said Kandel, who is also economic adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel has also partnered with Cyprus on the development of offshore gas fields, with the allies tentatively discussing cooperation on the delivery of gas to European and Asian markets.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Cyprus in February, becoming the first premier of the Jewish state to do so, and the two countries have signed a deal delineating an exclusive economic zone.
Israel's natural gas finds are expected to sharply reduce its dependence on imports.
In 2010, it used 5.3 billion cubic metres of natural gas, most of it for energy generation. 
By 2030, gas is predicted to be generating 60 per cent of Israel's electricity compared to 40 per cent at present.
The use of the more heavily-polluting oil and coal are to be halved over the same period, to 30 per cent, while renewable energy, such as solar power, should account for 10 per cent of consumption by 2030, according to official projections.
"French concerns must participate in this new energy, economic and industrial adventure," France's ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, told the seminar.
"For now, we are unfortunately not very present in this sector, despite our recognised competence and expertise," he added.
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