Susan Kraemer | December 29th, 2010 |

Today’s announcement from Noble Energy of its gigantic Leviathan gas find in disputed territory will exacerbate tensions in region

They say that fossil fuel riches become a curse to any country that possess them. Where fossil fuels flow – corruption, reduced democracy and increased inequality follow. It is such a recognized pattern that it has become a cliche: the resource curse. No nation is immune. Even one-time staid and fair-minded Canada has now succumbed to this corruption of democracy, under the pressure from its oil sands provinces.

So when Houston-based Noble Energy today confirmed that its Leviathan gas find under the water off the shore of Israel is easily the largest exploration discovery in its history, with an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – it is not a moment of rejoicing – but one of trepidation.

Not only is the resource curse the kiss of death for one little democracy in the Middle East, but the huge find straddles the borders of neighbors that have never had neighborly relations.

There is an estimated 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the entire Levant Basin Province, according to the USGS. It lies within the offshore territory of Israel, Lebanon, Gaza/Palestinian Authority, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The Leviathan gas field is within the Levant Basin, and it straddles the border of Israel and Lebanon. The disputes between Israel and Lebanon have already begun. The Leviathan field is twice as large as the Tamar gas field, which is 50 miles west of Haifa in 5500 feet of water.

In June, Lebanon warned Israel not to drill in its waters, and Israel claimed in return that it is not drilling in Lebanese waters. But no matter where the drills actually go in, they would both be tapping into the same reservoir. And it really is a case of “the first in will get to win.”

By July, Steve LeVine at Foreign Policy Magazine was suggesting that since the Israelis are already set to produce gas, they have a huge head start, and “will be able to suck out most of the gas before anyone else is even able to raise the funds for exploration.”

He noted then that the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields combined could contain more than 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, equivalent to 3.5 billion barrels of oil, or up to 35 years of Israel’s current consumption with enough left over to make the country an exporter. Rosy futures are being predicted by oil companies.

Now that Noble has made its announcement, that estimate looks to be right on the money. With sixteen trillion cubic feet from Leviathan and another eight from Tamar, the total is about 24 trillion cubic feet.

For a region that has never gotten along, the Leviathan gas field could write a whole new chapter in the history of the resource curse.