Energy minister calls for more gas drilling, but climate concerns loom

Environmental experts say Israel “out of sync” with global aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the face of global boiling.

 Energy Minister Israel Katz is seen visiting the Leviathan Gas Rig in the Mediterranean Sea, on August 2, 2023. (photo credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO)
Energy Minister Israel Katz is seen visiting the Leviathan Gas Rig in the Mediterranean Sea, on August 2, 2023.
(photo credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO)

Energy Minister Israel Katz called on the country to increase natural gas drilling in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday.

Environmental experts, however, say that doing so is “out of sync” with global aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the face of global boiling.

Katz visited the Leviathan Gas Field for the first time since taking office on Wednesday to celebrate a decade since Israel’s natural gas revolution, meeting with the CEO of Chevron Eastern Mediterranean managing director Jeff Ewing to discuss long-term plans for the site.

The Leviathan Gas Field is a natural gas reservoir located approximately 130 km. west of Haifa in Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters in the Mediterranean Sea. The field was discovered in 2010, and the flow of natural gas from the reservoir through the treatment facility began on December 31, 2019. Leviathan is one of the largest natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Thanks to the government’s policy and efforts to extract gas from the ground, within a few years, the State of Israel transformed from a natural gas importer to a natural gas exporter. Today, the most potent card in Israel’s diplomatic arsenal is natural gas. We are a land flowing with milk, honey, and gas,” Katz said. “Everyone in the region and the world wants to be connected with Israel because of natural gas. Our ability to export natural gas is a tremendous strategic asset that strengthens Israel’s position in the region and the world.”

 Energy Minister Israel Katz is seen visiting the Leviathan Gas Rig in the Mediterranean Sea, on August 2, 2023. (credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO)
Energy Minister Israel Katz is seen visiting the Leviathan Gas Rig in the Mediterranean Sea, on August 2, 2023. (credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO)

“My mission,” said Katz, “is to ensure that the supply of natural gas, primarily to the citizens of Israel, remains stable for the coming decades.

“Continuing the billions of dollars in revenue to the state treasury for the benefit of the country’s citizens and the fight against the cost of living, alongside the national interests, undoubtedly requires a decision to increase gas exports according to the required quantity.”

A report released by the Israeli Natural Gas Trade Association and the business advisory firm BDO last month showed that Israeli households have saved more than NIS 120,000 over the past decade thanks to the country’s natural gas revolution. According to the report, cumulative savings to the economy over the last 10 years from the natural gas industry were more than NIS 316 billion.

The price of electricity in Israel was nearly 50% lower than in Europe at the end of 2022, thanks to gas, the report said. Moreover, Israel is the OECD leader in saving gas for the future and third among the organization in reserves per capita.

Israel's natural gas reserves and a role in regional stability

Katz’s statements echoed a report released by the Abraham Accords Peace Institute Wednesday in which scholars Gina Cohen and Alexander Kislov explained how, in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords, Israel and its regional partners could “play a significant role to help further stabilize the region and contribute positively to the global economic scene.”

Today, Israel has more than 1,000 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas reserves from its Tamar and Tamar South West, Leviathan, Karish, and Tanin fields, as well as in a series of smaller fields.

Egypt also has extensive reserves of gas, Cohen and Kislov explained. However, it consumes nearly all the gas it produces. Cyprus has the potential to produce up to 400 bcms, but its fields still need to be developed. Turkey also discovered gas in 2022, but the country is still highly dependent on gas from Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan. Jordan and Lebanon, on the other hand, have no gas reserves.

The researchers said that Israel could become a key player in the region and expand its gas sales to Europe, which is struggling with energy security due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The researchers offered several suggestions for doing so, all requiring increased drilling. These include sending more gas to Egypt that could be liquified in Egyptian liquefaction plants and exported abroad. They also suggested constructing a floating liquefaction natural gas facility in Israel’s EEZ, an option they say would “provide Israel and the partners in the fields the highest degree of independence from most geopolitical options.”

Cohen and Kislov suggested focusing on the East Med project to build a gas pipeline to link Israel with Cyprus and then onto Greece and Italy. This plan, they say, is the most “mature in terms of feasibility.” Finally, they suggest that a pipeline from Israel’s offshore fields to Turkey, the shortest route to Europe, could be established.

“Despite Europe’s long-term plan to wean itself off fossil fuels, it still requires gas, creating a window of opportunity for Israeli gas supplies over the next 25 years,” the authors wrote.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Kislov added that “the world has not yet achieved the ability to power itself on wind and sun. If you look at the consensus forecast, we see that natural gas will be the fastest-growing fossil fuel in the coming decade among gas, coal and oil.”

However, environmental expert Prof. Alon Tal of Tel Aviv University said that plans to expand drilling are dangerous for the environment and could also lead to “economic punishment” for Israel.

“The Israeli government, like every government in Europe and even China, committed to having zero emissions by 2050,” Tal said. “You don’t have to go any further than Pheonix, Arizona, where it was 117 degrees Fahrenheit for two weeks, to know [that climate change is] dangerous.

“Let’s say we drill more gas,” he continued, “50 years from now, it may be 130 degrees.”

Scientists said the world just experienced the hottest July in likely 120,000 years. Iran was forced to shut down the country due to extreme heat. Israel, however, did not break any records.

Tal added that in October 2023, the European Union’s carbon border tax will be implemented, and Israel will be taxed for its carbon emissions.

“If you are not with the program, you are going to have to pay a lot,” Tal stressed, adding that Israel “cannot be a renegade” and drill more while everyone else is reducing their use of gas.

“We need to tell our government we do not want to destroy the planet for our kids,” he said. “Israel is completely out of sync.”

In response to those, like Tal, who are against additional drilling, Katz tweeted Wednesday afternoon: “After fighting and failing in their mission to keep the gas in the water – now they are trying to scare us to prevent us from increasing exports and bringing billions into the state treasury that will ensure our strength.

“Sorry, dear lobbyists, I am on the side of the citizens of Israel.”