Israel authorises gas exports from offshore fields to Egypt

Green light clears the way for Israel to become an energy exporter for the first time.

    Israeli natural gas bound for Egypt is intended for domestic consumption and for liquifaction for export to other markets [File: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool via Reuters]
    Israeli natural gas bound for Egypt is intended for domestic consumption and for liquifaction for export to other markets [File: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool via Reuters]

    Israel cleared the way to become an energy exporter for the first time on Monday after the government signed a permit approving the supply of natural gas from Israeli offshore fields to Egypt.

    The announcement comes as Israel's largest offshore gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, Leviathan, is expected to go online next month. Gas from another offshore Israeli field, Tamar, is also set to supply Egypt's growing demand for energy.

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    Israel's Delek Group Ltd and Texas-based Nobel Energy Inc - partners in the development of both fields - agreed in October to boost the contracted supply of natural gas to Egypt to 85.3 billion cubic metres (three trillion cubic feet) over 15 years.

    Calling the authorisation an "historic landmark" for Israel, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said it is the most significant economic cooperation project between the neighbouring countries since they signed a peace deal in 1979.

    In January, Egypt hosted its first-ever regional gas forum. The Israeli energy minister attended alongside several regional delegations, the first such visit by an Israeli cabinet member since Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

    Israeli gas bound for Egypt is intended for domestic consumption and for liquifaction for export to other markets, potentially giving the deal strategic resonance beyond the two countries.

    The European Union, which is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, has encouraged the formation of new delivery routes, including through the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

    Eastern routes through the sea could also curtail Iranian ambitions to use Syria as a gateway to the Mediterranean.

    Steinitz touted Israel's "natural gas revolution" as a windfall for the country that will dramatically decrease air pollution. But environmental and social welfare activists have criticised the sector's development.

    Activists say that the government has been too generous with the gas firms behind the exploration, and that the massive investment has steered resources away from focusing on renewable energy sources.

    More recently, local activists have been urging Delek Group and Noble Energy to move a proposed shoreline treatment gas rig farther out to sea. The activists fear what they call the catastrophic consequences of spreading toxic water and air pollution towards their homes.

    Delek, Noble and the Israeli government insist that the most stringent safety measures have been put in place, and accuse their critics of waging an irresponsible scare campaign.

    Israel already delivers small quantities of gas to the Palestinians and to Jordan, with which Delek and Noble signed their first export agreement in 2016.

    The discovery of the Leviathan reservoir in 2010 some 125 kilometers (78 miles) off the Israeli coast -together with the 2009 discovery of the smaller Tamar field - ushered in a wave of optimism for the country's energy future. 

    The Zohr gas field - discovered off the coast of Egypt in 2015 - has been touted as the largest ever in the Mediterranean.

    SOURCE: News agencies