Since 1948 the democratic state of Israel has relied on its neighbors to supply the majority of its energy needs. But that is all about to change with recent offshore natural gas discoveries in the Mediterranean that was discovered with assistance of U.S. based Noble Energy Corp.
In October 2010 Israel discovered a massive gas field offshore in what it declared was its Exclusive Economic Zone. The gas field is roughly 84 miles west of the Haifa port and three miles deep. Israel named the major gas field Leviathan after the Biblical sea monster.
The impact of the natural gas fields could supply Israel with its energy needs for hundreds of years and allow the country to export natural gas to other countries in the region.
In December India’s Economic Times reported that Israel has offered to export natural gas to India.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Levant Basin, which encompasses Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and the Gaza Strip, contains around 122 trillion cubic feet of gas and at least 1.7 billion barrels of oil.
Some analysts claim that the offshore gas discoveries could pump $130 billion dollars into Israel’s economy.
Israel’s sovereignty of the offshore sites is disputed. Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon have all issued territorial claims to the offshore gas sites.
In August 2011 Lebanon’s Parliament passed new legislation demarcating its maritime borders with Israel which was a direct response to Israel’s cabinet approving a map of Israel’s proposed maritime borders with Lebanon during the previous month.
Between July and October of 2010, Lebanon submitted geographic coordinates for its proposed maritime border to the UN, before withdrawing them in November.
This was followed by the ratification by Cyprus and Israel of their own maritime border agreement in February 2011. Both countries stand to benefit from the ratification. Lebanon rejected this international agreement in a letter to the UN, sent in June 2011. Lebanon claims Israel’s Leviathan field extends into Lebanese waters.
In Sept 2011 Israel began drilling in one of the gas fields, known as the Tamar gas field, despite threats from the Turkish government and the presence of Turkish navy destroyers nearby.
Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974 by force, and is increasingly confrontational with Israel, has sent warships in the region to protect its own interests in the gas fields.
The Israeli government has drafted plans to construct a floating liquefied natural gas terminal with a sea-based defense radar system off its Mediterranean coast as it operates a naval force to protect its gas fields against terrorist attacks from malicious groups or invading countries.
Iran, which is known to support Hezbollah in the region, deployed a warship in the Mediterranean last month via the Suez Canal and plans to continue sending more warships on a regular basis.
Natural gas production is expected to begin in 2013 in at least one of the major offshore gas fields.
Today Israel receives natural gas from domestic production and Egypt. The Arab gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel and other Arab neighboring countries began in 2009 and remains operational today although it has been sabotaged 13 times since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from his office in Egypt.
Natural gas from the new offshore fields is expected to severely curtail Egyptian natural gas imports and ease political pressure within Egypt to cease exporting gas to Israel.