Tamar gas field discoverer: Israel’s security demands gas reserve for 40 years

Yossi Langotsky, who named field after his granddaughter, says Energy Ministry is making a mistake considering exports before securing Israel’s strategic reserves

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

The Tamar gas rig, located 23 kilometers (14 miles) west of the city of Haifa in northern Israel. (AP/Albatross Aerial Perspective)
The Tamar gas rig, located 23 kilometers (14 miles) west of the city of Haifa in northern Israel. (AP/Albatross Aerial Perspective)

The geologist who discovered Israel’s first major gas field, naming it after his granddaughter Tamar, says that an inter-ministerial committee’s proposal to increase exports of natural gas is a mistake.

Yossi Langotsky, 87, a retired IDF Colonel and two-time recipient of the Defence Ministry’s Israel Defense Prize, has been in the oil and gas exploration business since the 1960s. He discovered the Tamar gas field in 2009, paving the way for others to find additional massive fields in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Describing himself as “one of the last active Mohicans” among Israeli oil geologists, he told The Times of Israel that it was wrong for a committee chaired by Energy Ministry Director General Udi Adiri to plan an emergency gas supply for the country for only 25 years and seek to sell off the rest overseas.

“John Hofmeister, a former president of US Shell, said it very clearly when he told the Herzliya conference in 2015 that Israel shouldn’t think of exporting any gas until it is sure it has sufficient domestic reserves for 40 to 50 years,” he said.

Geologist Yossi Langotsky. (Screenshot)

Langotsky, who is currently working on a project to find terrestrial oil in the southern Arava desert, added, “National security is not only F-35s and Merkava tanks, but also gas reserves.”

“No exports should take place before an emergency gas depot for at least 40 years can be guaranteed.”

He was responding to the draft report (in Hebrew) of a committee composed of representatives from eight government ministries that was established to determine what Israel’s gas policy should be in the years ahead.

Published for comment in June, it was the subject of a public meeting earlier this month. Asked when it would be finalized, an Energy Ministry spokeswoman would only say, “When it’s ready, it will be submitted to the Minister.”

Energy Ministry Director General Udi Adiri (Screen capture: YouTube)

The report calls on the government to encourage more exploration for gas and to do so by reaching new agreements with foreign governments, slashing regulations that restrict exports, providing tax incentives to potential gas exploration companies, and helping to fund the expansion of infrastructure to allow for Israeli gas to be transported to Europe and Asia.

Advised by “international consultants,” the committee, known as Adiri 2 (Adiri 1 reported on the same subject in December 2018), was told that demand for gas as a “transition fuel” on the way to renewables is likely to increase up to 2030 or shortly thereafter, after which it will decline as nations move more fully to alternative energy sources. After 20 to 25 years, the window for exporting gas would close.

If action is not taken now to develop new sources of gas and export them, the committee reasoned, the country could lose NIS 230 billion ($71.5 billion) in potential income.

The processing platform for the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, the largest field discovered to date in Israel’s waters. Seen from the northern beach of Dor on December 31, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

According to the report, around 900 billion cubic meters of gas is already known to exist within Israel’s economic waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Of this, predicted domestic demand between now and 2045 will be 482.3 BCM, according to the committee’s calculations.

Not only does this mean that the remainder can be exported abroad; but there is potential to find an additional 500 to 1,000 BCM if companies can be found to invest in exploration, the report claims.

To date, says the report, contracts have been signed to sell just 130 BCM to Jordan and Egypt. While these contracts will probably be renewed, the chances are low of selling to other neighboring states and therefore, the focus should be on European and Asian markets.

The report concedes, however, that “It’s hard to encourage exploration for additional gas fields,” writing that, “since 2013 ….there has been just one exploratory drill, while in neighboring countries there have been dozens of exploratory drills in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

A floating production and storage rig similar to this one will be used for the Karish gas field, due to go into commercial production next year. (Courtesy, Energean)

It explains this by saying that Israeli regulations obliging gas companies to connect pipes to the Israeli market have made exploration financially unattractive. This requirement should be canceled, it recommends.

Langotsky, however, believes that the main reason companies have stayed away is that the remaining gas potential of Israeli waters is not sufficiently attractive to lure them to explore.

“If there are 500 BCM out there that haven’t been discovered, and they’re spread around eight wells (as the Adiri 2 report contends), it’s unlikely that any company will risk investing in drilling.”

View of the Ashalim solar power station in the Negev desert, southern Israel, on August 21, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Green organizations have come out against the report’s recommendations in light of the need to cut fossil fuels and halt runaway climate change. The government should be investing in renewable energy, storage, and energy conservation instead, they say

The Environmental Protection Ministry, which was on the committee, has already distanced itself from the report, charging that it was issued as if with its agreement. The ministry had actually demanded that any “outline of policy for the development of the gas economy must be part of a broad and comprehensive strategic outline that leads Israel to realize the commitment to stop dependence on fossil fuels, including gas, and move to a low-carbon economy.”

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