New rig pushes Israel from coal to natural gas – is it really a big improvement?

The arrival and operation of Energean Power could significantly shift Israel's energy economy and produce more climate friendly gas.

 Energean's FPSO (Floating production storage and offloading) (photo credit: ENERGEAN)
Energean's FPSO (Floating production storage and offloading)
(photo credit: ENERGEAN)

On Saturday, the “Energean Power” gas rig – also referred to as the “Karish FPSO” – docked in Israeli waters off the shore of Haifa. The ship is currently undergoing commissioning and is expected to begin pumping gas from the “Karish” natural gas reservoir in the next 3-4 months.

The arrival and operation of Energean Power could significantly shift Israel’s energy economy, while also livening up the natural beauty of the coastline with its quaint industrial-grade pollution aesthetic.

“I am pleased to confirm that Energean Power, the floating rig of Energean, arrived safely in Israel this morning. This is a very significant milestone for the first gas extraction from the Shark Reservoir, expected in the third quarter of this year,” Matthews Riggs, CEO of Energean said.

In a statement, Energy Minister Karine Elharrar expressed the rig’s importance in allowing Israel to move on from the severely polluting fossil fuels it had been relying on for energy until now, and start using something WAY better – a more refined fossil fuel with an airier flavor.

“The connection of the platform will allow for an increasing number of players in Israel to switch from burning coal and mazut to using natural gas."

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar
Karine Elharrar at the Presidential Meeting (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Karine Elharrar at the Presidential Meeting (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

“The connection of the platform will allow for an increasing number of players in Israel to switch from burning coal and mazut to using natural gas. We will continue to work for the diversification of the energy sector and preserve its stability and reliability in normal times and in emergencies for the benefit of all the citizens of Israel,” she said. “I welcome the arrival of the platform in Israel and hope that its connection and the required tests are carried out swiftly and successfully.”

Energean’s new gas platform furthers Israel’s position as a natural gas power and will allow for increasing the export of natural gas to Egypt and Jordan – and the Energy Ministry hopes to then expand its scope to additional countries in Europe that are in need of an additional source of natural gas following the global energy crisis brought on by the war in Ukraine.

The impact of the new gas

Don’t get it twisted though: odds are that this new gas won’t impact Israel’s consumers or its general market right away. “It’s not going to impact our prices in the near future. It’s going to take longer,” said Dr. Alexander Coman, from the Faculty of Management at Tel Aviv University.

It will make an impact, though: he explained that it could allow Israel to quit the constant game of “keep or sell” which has until now played a role in stifling Israel’s ability to maximize its gains from its bounty of undersea dinosaur juice.

“On one hand, you want to sell it abroad so you make a lot of money. On the other hand, you want to use it in a local market so you can reduce prices,” he said. “Now that we have more gas, we’ll be able to sell it abroad, while still using it in the local market. This way we can make [a] profit from our gas and at the same time reduce the prices in Israel,” and while we’re at it, “get rid of the dependency on coal.”

A reduced dependency on coal was also cited by the Energy Ministry, which emphasized in a press release that the export of Israel’s natural gas to neighboring (and potentially non-neighboring) countries serves a dual purpose: it gives Israel quite a bit of geopolitical leverage, and it also “assists Israel and countries such as Egypt and Jordan in reducing the use of polluting fuels such as coal and oil and dramatically reduces air pollution.”

It’s true that natural gas produces fewer carbon emissions than coal (by about 50%, say experts), but saying that the former is “cleaner” than the latter is like saying that eating a rotten orange is better than eating two rotten oranges.

“The use of natural gas as a ‘less polluting’ fuel source is fundamentally problematic,” said Meital Peleg Mizrachi, from the Department of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University. “While using gas as an energy source is less polluting than burning coal and oil, it is certainly polluting: gas is a fossil fuel for all intents and purposes and is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions on a dangerous scale.”

“Moreover, gas was defined in Israel as transitional energy a decade ago, on the way to full reliance on renewable energies,” she continued. “But since then, even though the transition period should have ended, the Energy Ministry has continued to promote gas drilling at the expense of solar energy, and at the cost of both deepening Israel’s dependence on gas and [exacerbating] the climate crisis.”

Though, at least, the new rig looks like the gnarled remains of a cyborg Loch Ness monster. That’s gotta be worth something, right?