The discovery of Israel’s natural gas resources promise important benefits of energy security and economic gains. Israel is a leading country because preparations to extract gas are already at advanced stages despite that its gas fields’ development has proved to be a lengthy process.
Delays are attributed to the fact that the fields’ development is capital intensive and entails risks that unsettle investors. A major risk is the lack of energy transportation infrastructure in Israel. Leviathan field partners namely Noble Energy, Avner Oil Exploration, Ratio Oil Exploration and Delek Drilling are likely to develop infrastructure used exclusively by Leviathan, blocking out competitors and endangering prospects for future gas discoveries in Israel. In particular, the likelihood that competitors will have to finance their own transportation infrastructure, raises the costs of developing smaller fields at prohibitive levels. Concurrently, the Israeli Leviathan field’s development, the largest exploration success since December 2010,is capital intensive given that it requires significant investment that will be carried out in two stages: the first stage foresees four development wells with an annual capacity production of 12 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, and, the second, four additional wells that would increase production capacity by another 9 bcm.
In regional terms, Israel’s efficiency as a gas exporter is significant. This is evidenced by the signing in early 2018 of two agreements valued $15 billion between Leviathan and Tamar fields’ consortium and Egyptian company Dolphinus Holdings for the provision of 64 bcm of gas over a ten-year period. The agreement are expected to produce three benefits. First, Egypt is a viable export market for Israeli gas and will thus generate interest from foreign energy companies to bid for licenses in future Israeli international auction rounds. Second, the Israeli government would benefit financially from royalties on sales and taxes on profits. Third, Leviathan partners will secure funding for the field’s development.
Reservations however subsist when it comes to the transportation of Israeli gas to Egypt via the existing pipeline infrastructure in Sinai as terrorist attacks on the pipeline could halt exports from Israel as it happened in 2012. The prospect of terrorism raises the cost of the Israeli fields’ development because of the increased risk premium. It is in this spirit that the construction of a subsea gas pipeline that connects Israel to Egypt could present a safer option. In any case, transportation of Israeli gas to Egypt is not only a milestone in regional gas cooperation, but also supports authentic Israel-Egypt normalization.
Israeli government interference in the form of heavy regulation and bureaucracy is a self-inflicted wound that prevents foreign energy companies from participating in bidding processes. Despite the approval of a revised framework for gas regulation by the Israeli government, the first Israeli bidding process received limited attention taking into account that only a Greek energy company and a consortium of Indian companies participated. Notably, the main outlines of the revised gas regulatory framework included the mandatory sale by Delek Group Ltd, Avner Oil & Gas LP and Delek Drilling LP of all their rights in the Israeli Tanin and Karish fields that are currently owned by Greek Eneregan Oil & Gas Company; and, a stability clause which foresees that the Israeli government guarantees regulatory stability for ten years.
On a parallel level, overlapping maritime claims between Israel and Lebanon over a 854-square kilometer maritime boundary carry the risk of escalation. The January 2018 signing of Lebanon’s first exploration and production agreement (EPA) with a consortium of companies led by French Total as operator, and Italian Eni and Russian Novatek as partners signals competition that could evolve into confrontation over energy resources. Undoubtedly, in the absence of mutual diplomatic recognition between Lebanon and Israel, no trans-boundary natural resource sharing initiative can be taken. The consortium’s announcement that no operation within 25 km of the disputed area will happen leaves room for a third party mediation to minimize the risk of armed conflict and to work on reciprocal acceptance of the 2012 American proposal so that consensual and authorized economic activity becomes feasible. Noteworthy, the 2012 American proposal involved division of the disputed area granting Lebanon a larger share with the aim to serve as basis of bilateral discussions and be deposited with the UN.
To fulfill its energy potential, Israel should speedy proceed with the supply of gas pumped directly from the Leviathan and Tamar fields to LNG plants in Egypt as this will benefit both Egypt’s natural gas industry and development of Israeli fields. Israel should also invest in security of its energy supply to refute the notion of insecurity that prevents foreign energy companies from investing in the country’s gas fields. Equally important, risks that concern investors like export sustainability should be addressed by guaranteeing a certain amount of financial recovery though the existing compensation mechanism. A transparent and predictable Israeli regulatory environment for foreign investors and access to external sources of project finance and loan guarantees and production commitments in Israel are important for the development of export oriented gas resources.
Unquestionably, decisive steps have to be taken by Israel so that a new horizon is revealed; the horizon of indigenous energy development.