Energy minister predicts vast new offshore gas reserves
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Energy minister predicts vast new offshore gas reserves

Steinitz says foreign estimates suggest 2,200 billion cubic meters of natural gas under Israeli territorial waters

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An aerial view of an Israeli offshore gas rig (Albatross Aerial photography/Noble Energy/Flash90/File)
An aerial view of an Israeli offshore gas rig (Albatross Aerial photography/Noble Energy/Flash90/File)

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Thursday said that vast quantities of undiscovered natural gas likely exist under Israeli territorial waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Citing Israeli, American and European assessments, Steinitz said there was a “50 percent likelihood” that 2,200 billion cubic meters of natural gas would be confirmed in untapped offshore reserves, four times the amount in Leviathan, the largest known Israeli offshore field.

Speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference, the energy minister said that if the assessments were correct, Israel would begin ocean exploration in the coming months, and was mulling selling the gas to Turkey.

“Another find will turn Israel into a gas exporter, and we’re examining the feasibility of installing a gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey at a reasonable cost,” he said. “If the predictions are correct, and other reservoirs are discovered, Israel will become a major gas exporter to Western Europe.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during a Knesset plenum session on September 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In recent years, the Mediterranean Sea has become a new frontier of energy exploration with foreign investment lured in to prospect via deep-water drilling.

The discovery of Israel’s Leviathan reservoir by the American Noble Energy and the locally based Delek Group, an offshore reserve estimated to contain some 17 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, was one of the world’s largest offshore discoveries in a decade.

Noble-Delek’s proposed deal to develop Leviathan and number of other natural gas reserves discovered offshore Israel in recent years has faced persistent opposition from critics who say the partnership would create a monopoly in the gas market and lead to higher prices for Israeli consumers.

Over the last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has performed political cartwheels to override Knesset and public opposition to the consortium’s proposal before finally pushing an amended deal through the cabinet in May.

The amended agreement, which contains the so-called “stability clause,” allows future governments to alter the gas deal where necessary, a stipulation whose omission in a previous agreement text led to the High Court blocking its progress.

Netanyahu has touted the gas deal as having the potential to bring would bring energy self-sufficiency and billions of dollars in tax revenues and transform Israel into a regional energy powerhouse.

Israel is reportedly in gas exportation talks with Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, the Palestinians and the European Union.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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