As offshore natural gas begins to flow into Israel, Canadian Natural Resources
Minister Joe Oliver says it is an ideal time for the two countries to move
forward with cooperative ventures in the energy field.
Oliver made an
official call for project proposals on Tuesday, under the Canada-Israel Energy
Science and Technology Fund, which he and thenenergy and water minister Uzi
Landau established in October.
Run by Dr. Henri Rothschild, president of
the Canada- Israel Industrial R&D Foundation, the fund is receiving $5
million over the course of three years from the Canadian ministry’s ecoENERGY
Innovation Initiative project, as well as funding from the Israeli Energy and
Water Ministry on a project-by-project basis, Oliver said.
will ideally be in a pre-commercialization stage and must involve both an
Israeli and Canadian partner, the minister said.
“I think as government
initiatives go this has been moving at a pretty fast rate,” Oliver told The
Jerusalem Post in an interview in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night.
Canada’s decision to move forward with energy research and development
collaborations is promising, but Oliver said he was “still troubled” by the fact
that annual trade between the two countries was still only about $1.4 billion
In 2011, when the number was around $1.33b., he told the Post
in a Jerusalem interview that he hoped to see the figure grow
“These things don’t change overnight,” he said, noting that
Israel had placed a lot of focus on commerce with China, India and the United
“We have got to continue to tell our story and tell it better,”
Oliver continued. “We have a real value added now because of the offshore gas
and the expertise we have there. These things don’t change immediately.
think that Canada is very well regarded in Israel and I think its diplomatic
stance is well appreciated, but that does not automatically translate into
Oliver, from the Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper, was
elected to the House of Commons in 2011 and assumed his ministerial office on
May 18 of that year, representing the Eglinton-Lawrence district of
Before entering politics, Oliver was an investment
He earned his MBA from Harvard University and both bachelor’s and
law degrees from McGill University.
In addition to holding meetings with
a wide range of business and energy professionals during his trip, Oliver
visited Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom and Environmental Protection
Minister Amir Peretz on Wednesday and said that he would also see current
Tourism Minister Landau – with whom he had worked extensively – as well as
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.
Natural resources, directly
and indirectly, make up about 20 percent of the Canadian economy, and a majority
of that fifth comes from oil and natural gas. Canada has a 173 billion-barrel
oil reserve that consists predominantly of oil sands.
Oliver said that
Canadian knowledge, depth of experience and partnership would be invaluable to
Israel’s offshore petroleum as well as its on-land oil shale explorations going
While no Canadian firms are partners in the large Tamar and
Leviathan reservoir ventures, Toronto-based Adira Energy is drilling in other
portions of Israel’s eastern Mediterranean, and three other Canadian firms are
involved with Israeli oil and gas projects, Oliver said.
Because most of
the world’s largest oil and gas firms are steering clear of the region due to
geopolitical concerns, there are more “opportunities for intermediate-sized
companies to be involved” in the area’s drilling, he said.
“We are still
in early stages [of Israeli gas and oil development], so there are
opportunities,” Oliver said. “Israel has a lot of thinking to do in terms of
exports, in terms of royalties, in terms of the regulatory regime, in terms of
developing engineering and technological capability, in terms of getting
“But they’re pumping gas,” he added. “It’s kind of exciting
times for the country.”
As for how Israel should go forward in putting
together all of these critical policies and strategies, Oliver said he could not
offer specific advice for the country – particularly in terms of export
allocations, a controversial subject among Israeli gas experts.
comment on Israeli national security,” he said.
“The country is going to
make an assessment of its needs in these areas. There are consequences always to
these decisions and clearly capital can be raised when you export.”
sovereign country needs to make its own decision in that regard, he continued,
adding: “There are always different economic interests in play and that’s what
the government has to reconcile.”
This was, however, a very positive
dilemma to have on a nation’s plate, Oliver said.
Another quandary among
the Israel’s gas stakeholders and activists is the lack of strict environmental
regulations that exist for the offshore gas rigs, because they are located in
Israel’s exclusive economic zone – where standard government laws do not
While to this dilemma, too, Oliver said he could not offer
concrete advice, he explained that all Canadian energy projects undergo
environmental assessments through independent bodies. To expedite the
environmental evaluations, Oliver’s ministry last year launched a Responsible
Resource Development policy as part of Harper’s overall 2012 Economic Action
Plan, which eliminates duplication and places stricter time frames on review
processes, he explained.
The environmental regulatory system in Canada
must be as efficient as possible, considering that the country has $650b. worth
of energy projects occurring over the next decade, according to
“We won’t let any project go ahead unless it’s safe for the
Canadian environment, but those that are safe we want to get moving,” he said.