The Tamar natural-gas reservoir discovered 90 kilometers west of Haifa was the
largest offshore natural-gas discovery in the world in 2009. One year later,
Noble Energy and its partners discovered the Leviathan field, almost twice as
big as Tamar and the world’s largest offshore natural-gas discovery in
Together, these discoveries total almost 740 billion cubic meters,
which is 240 b.cu.m. more than Israel will use for the next 30 years to generate
electricity, shift the industrial sector off of liquid fuels and convert a
portion of its transportation to CNG (compressed natural gas) or electric- drive
trains. In short, our country is blessed with more gas than we can use for
decades to come.
Israel’s decision makers are now tasked with adopting
policies that will guarantee energy security for the country’s citizens,
maximize the economic potential for the economy, create incentives for
international oil companies (IOCs) to invest in Israel and create conditions for
increased competition in the gas market.
The single-most important step
the government can take to achieve these goals is to create the conditions for
the establishment of a world-class export project.
There are two
arguments often raised in opposition to export. In a country such as ours, with
the geopolitical challenges we face, there is a tendency to argue that we need
to eschew exports in favor of “saving our resources for future generations.”
Some have suggested ensuring a domestic natural-gas supply for the next 50 or
even 100 years! The few countries that have followed this failed approach have
been left with plenty of gas in the ground but no companies willing to invest in
exploration and no security of supply.
The classic case is Bangladesh,
which in the 1990s saw proven reserves increase substantially from 310 b.cu.m.
in 1992 to 570 b.cu.m. in 2000, mainly due to the exploration activities of
IOCs. Production began, but permission to export was delayed and IOCs halted
their exploration and production efforts. In 2002, the government announced that
exports would be allowed only if 50 years of domestic supply could be
IOCs subsequently left Bangladesh, explicitly citing the lack
of exports as a driver in their decision. The reduced interest in exploration
caused proven reserves to decline to 366 b.cu.m. by 2010. Today, despite its
vast geologic potential, Bangladesh is an importer of natural
Alternatively, Australia has succeeded in developing its resources
by allowing exports at levels that are profitable for IOCs, and it is poised to
become the world’s second largest LNG (liquefied natural gas) exporter.
Importantly, Australia has increased its security of supply through
export-related exploration and production activity. Domestic consumption has
climbed by over 7 percent annually on average since 1970, but increased reserve
levels have amply covered the local market.
The second argument made in
opposition to exports is that we have not done enough to grow the domestic
Even with very aggressive assumptions (80% electricity production
from natural gas, increased industrial use, 25% of all light vehicles powered by
CNG or electricity and a considerable shift to CNG in public transportation),
Israel has more than enough gas to supply the domestic market for more than 30
years, with plenty left to export.
Nevertheless, it is in the interest of
the government and producers to increase domestic demand. Serving the local
market requires less time and is far less expensive than creating an export
project. For this reason, producers tend to favor the local market. This need
not happen at the expense of exporting natural gas.
On October 2, 2011,
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau
appointed an interministerial committee to recommend policies regarding the
natural-gas sector, including what should be done regarding exports. The
committee worked for almost a year hearing from outside experts, examining the
policies of more than 30 natural-gas-producing countries, meeting with
environmental organizations, local manufacturers, consumers and gas producers.
After a thorough and transparent process, the committee recommended that, after
securing supply for the domestic market, some of the gas discovered be made
available for export. The committee found that “permitting export of natural gas
does not prevent, but rather promotes guaranteeing the needs of the local
economy, and works to encourage the development of local industry based on
The committee is correct. It is time for the government to
approve natural-gas exports and send a signal to IOCs that Israel is open for
business. Allowing exports will spur continued investment and encourage
international oil companies to explore and produce here. That activity will lead
to additional discoveries, additional infrastructure, additional competition in
the marketplace and additional gas for the local market. Those are the elements
of real energy security.
Binyamin A. Zomer is director of corporate
affairs for Noble Energy in Israel.