Israel begins Karish gas production ahead of Lebanon deal

The announcement comes before an historic maritime border agreement with Lebanon is expected to be signed on Thursday.

London-based Energean's drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022.
London-based Energean's drill ship is seen at the offshore Karish natural gas field near the maritime border [File: Ari Rabinovitch/Reuters]

Israel has begun gas production at Karish, an offshore field at the heart of a maritime border agreement expected to be signed soon with Lebanon.

The London-based hydrocarbon company Energean said that the first gas had been delivered, after Israel gave permission on Tuesday for the production to begin.

“We have delivered a landmark project that brings competition to the Israeli gas market, enhances security of energy supply in the East Med region and brings affordable and clean energy that will displace coal-fired power generation, making a material impact to the environment,” said Mathios Rigas, Chief Executive Officer of Energean in regulatory filing.

Israel and Lebanon agreed earlier this month to set a maritime border for the first time and establish a mechanism for both countries to explore offshore gas fields.

That is despite the two neighbours having technically been at war for decades, although the last active conflict was in 2006.

The US-brokered deal is expected to be finalised on Thursday during a ceremony in the Lebanese town of Naqoura, with delegations from Israel and Lebanon signing the deal in separate rooms.

Under its terms, Israel retains full rights to develop the Karish field while Lebanon retains full rights in nearby Qana.

As Qana extends southward across a border known as Line 23, Israel will be entitled to a share of royalties through a side agreement with the operator, the French company Total.

INTERACTIVE - Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute
(Al Jazeera)

The exploration of Karish’s 2.4 trillion cubic feet (68 billion cubic metres) of natural gas had drawn the wrath of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, which had called the extraction of gas from the contested waters before the conclusion of any deal a “red line”.

However, Hezbollah is on board with the agreement, seeing it as a potential way out of Lebanon’s continuing economic crisis.

The offshore gas field is now set to join Tamar and Leviathan to become Israel’s third offshore rig providing natural gas, with each connected to the mainland by separate infrastructure.

Earlier this month, Energean began pumping gas to its floating production facility in Karish as part of reverse flow testing procedures approved by the Israeli government.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is facing an election on November 1 and refused to bring the agreement before parliament for approval, said “the production of natural gas from the Karish platform bolsters Israel’s energy security, enhances our stature as energy exporters, strengthens Israel’s economy and helps in grappling with the global energy crisis”.

Gas exports to Jordan and Egypt would be able to increase, the energy ministry said, “and from there to additional countries in Europe that need natural gas sources in light of the global energy crisis”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies