The decision on how much of the nation’s natural gas will be allocated for
export must be taken within the halls of the Knesset and involve a wide range of
political voices, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said on
“This is a decision that has multi-generational influence, for
which a discussion should be as widespread as possible and involve
representatives of all Israeli politicians and not only those who are
ministers,” Peretz said, at the Environment of Tomorrow conference in Tel Aviv,
hosted by TheMarker and the Paris-based Veolia Environnement SA.
allowances for Israel’s natural gas have become an ongoing topic of contention
among politicians, explorers and environmentalists.
Gas from the
282-billion cubic meter offshore Tamar reservoir is already flowing to Ashdod,
and its neighboring 535 b.cu.m. Leviathan basin is supposed to come online
within a few years.
While the Zemach Committee – headed by Energy and
Water Ministry directorgeneral Shaul Zemach – last fall recommended a maximum
export allocation of 500 b.cu.m., or 53 percent, of the total gas, the
government has not approved an export policy. The committee also called to keep
at least 450 b.cu.m. at home to ensure a 25- to 30-year supply, but has come
under criticism from environmentalists who say that much more of the resource is
Last week, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom
announced his intention to make public all of the protocols of the Zemach
Committee to “increase transparency in public discourse before advancing the
He said he intended to set the maximum export
allocation at 40% rather than the expected 53% figure.
“To protect the
needs of the citizens of Israel, we demand that Israeli market will be allotted
at least 600 b.cu.m. of natural gas,” Peretz said. This would allow the country
to significantly expand the scope of natural gas being used in the
transportation sector, rather than using more polluting fossil fuels. The 40
b.cu.m. the Zemach Committee assigned to the transportation sector is
insufficient, Peretz stressed.
“The committee must continue to ensure the
profit of Israeli citizens from natural resources, and there is no reason that
the State of Israel should apologize for demanding what it deserves,” he
While the Environmental Protection Ministry and green groups have
been arguing for a more conservative export policy, energy officials and
exploration stakeholders contend that strong, stable export standards will only
have a positive effect upon Israel – by encouraging more drilling firms to enter
the market and find more gas.
Miki Korner, the founder and CEO of the M.
Korner oil and energy consultancy group, said that the Zemach Committee started
out doing “a good job” but ended up with export allocation figures that were too
conservative. Korner, who was formerly chief economist and engineer at Israel’s
Natural Gas Authority, participated as an adviser during the drafting of the
Zemach Committee report.
“The issue is on the table for at least four
years now, since I started dealing with it, and it’s enough time to decide,” he
told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Although he attended and planned to
speak at a May 13 Knesset Economic Affairs Committee meeting that discussed the
export issue, Korner said he chose not to speak due to what he felt was a
virulently one-sided atmosphere in the room. He cited MK Tamar Zandberg
(Meretz)’s constant interruptions of several of the people who testified
Independent international consultancy firms had recommended to the
Zemach Committee an export policy of about 80 to 85% to avoid a gas exploration
slump such as those that occurred in countries like Bangladesh, Egypt and
Trinidad and Tobago, Korner explained.
An unstable, insufficient export
policy “stops the industry,” he said, adding that “once you stop the industry
you have no more discoveries.”
If anything, Korner explained, 450
reserve of domestic gas for the next 30 years is way too high, as
even conservative projections predicted needs of less than half
Since 2004, Israeli energy consumption has gone down 35%,
predominantly due to increased regulation and the cost of labor and land, which
have driven many industries to outsource in China and India, he
Countering environmentalist claims that the petrochemical industry
will require large amounts of natural gas, Korner stressed that this industry
will never thrive in Israel because it is one that generates a lot of pollution.
As for transportation, the need for methanol will be very low – only about 400
m.cu.m. per year – as methanol production is not economic, according to Korner.
Compressed natural gas (CNG), meanwhile, may become an important tool for public
transportation, but it will not be economical for private car use anytime soon,
“The use of buses and even small amounts of trucks is
negligible in the macrosize,” he said. “Natural gas in cheap amounts exists in
Holland, Russia and Mexico.
CNG did not catch on because it’s not
Accusing politicians of “playing around with numbers” that
do not jive with reality, Korner added, “If you play around with the numbers,
you get a result that is bad for everybody.”