Expert: Israel cannot remain an ‘energy island’

Dr. Fatih Birol, chief economist of Int'l Energy Agency in Paris makes remarks at The Israel Business Conference.

Tamar natural gas rig 370 (photo credit: Albatross)
Tamar natural gas rig 370
(photo credit: Albatross)
For its own sake and for that of the region, Israel cannot remain on its own concerning energy, an international expert in the field argued on Sunday morning.
“Israel is going through a very important time of understanding energy markets in the country and in the region,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency in Paris. “Israel is not an energy island. Israel cannot stay an energy island.”
Birol was the keynote speaker during a panel on “myths and truths” of the global energy arena at the Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv. The gathering is organized annually by the Globes business newspaper.
In an energy world that is “changing very fast,” countries and companies that desire to remain winners must understand the new “dynamic position” that characterizes energy markets as new players join the “energy game,” Birol stressed. In addition, they must recognize the role changes and even reversals that take place as countries that were once solely resource importers are becoming exporters.
“Today, the job descriptions of these players are being rewritten and redefined,” he said, presenting the findings of his agency’s Word Energy Outlook 2013.
The United States and Brazil, solely energy importers for so many years, are suddenly becoming energy exporters, he said, while former Middle Eastern oil superpowers now play the role of consumer.
Despite the fact that the US is experiencing an unprecedented petroleum boom, the Middle East will maintain a significant place in the worldwide oil market, Birol stressed, adding that “there will be an iron trade link between the Middle East and Asia.”
Nevertheless, the US will likely be the largest oil producer in the world by 2015 owing to its oil deposits in shale rock, although most of that oil will be sold exclusively for domestic consumption, he explained.
“The Middle East is and will remain critical to the global oil market despite what is happening in the United States,” he said. “I believe that it is not right to say that what happened in the United States makes the Middle East an unimportant player. We will need Middle East oil to match the growth in Asia.”
Non-OECD Asian countries will contribute to 65 percent of the global growth in demand for energy resources by the year 2035, Birol said.
Dr. Edward Lewis Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup in New York, told panel participants that the development of unconventional energy resources had become “a phenomenally disruptive challenge.”
In the changing energy scenario, in which new players had appeared, “OPEC is really a hopeless organization,” Morse said.
By this time next year, he expected the US to become the largest net exporter of petroleum products, with major potential for the country to grow as an energy superpower. Meanwhile, he stressed, it would be crucial for both the US and Israel to transition from oil to natural gas in the transportation markets.
“Because of the abundance of gas and the abundance of tight and unconventional deep-water oil, I have a more optimistic view of our energy future than our other speakers do,” he said.
Keith Elliot, senior vice president for the eastern Mediterranean for Noble Energy, said Israel, like the US, had the potential to play a role in the global energy arena as an exporter, an option providing “mutual benefit to this entire region.”
Houston-based Noble is the largest stakeholder in Israel’s 282-billion-cubicmeter Tamar reservoir, which came online in March, as well as in the country’s Leviathan basin, estimated to be twice as big and slated to be connected in 2017.
Emphasizing that “projects like Tamar are challenging,” Elliot said his company had taken many lessons from that project in order to gauge how the development of Leviathan would impact its business.
With Tamar, for example, Noble and its partners “have experienced government intervention in our two contracts, which has created some fiscal uncertainty for us,” he said.
Leviathan, according to Elliot, will be developed in multiple phases, first as for domestic supply, similar to Tamar, and later as a major component for export, both regionally through pipelines and farther afield as liquefied natural gas.
Thus far, he said, Noble had invested $800 million in Leviathan’s development and expected total development and production costs to exceed $8 billion.
The reservoir’s 2017 start-date constitutes an approximately one-year delay, which he attributed to the lengthy government process of establishing export policies and then transforming these policies into usable rules and guidelines.
In addition, Noble has been encountering “some unanticipated antitrust challenges” regarding its role in the eastern Mediterranean off Israel, which he was confident would be resolved.
“For us, we need an environment that supports and encourages investment, and that’s what we’re working to craft,” he said.
Despite the challenges and delays, Elliot stressed that he was optimistic about Israel’s future as an energy producer and exporter, adding that his company was committed to working in collaboration with the government.
“We see the development of Leviathan to be equally critical to the state as the development of Tamar, perhaps even more so,” he said. “The development of Leviathan is something that goes beyond just providing fuel to Israel. Leviathan can provide fuel to regional players [and] neighboring countries.”