Environmental Protection Ministry blasts natural gas committee recommendation to export 50% of Israeli gas; claims committee in favor of drilling companies against consumers

Avital Lahav
Published: 09.06.12

A recent report by the committee to investigate the Israeli gas market has environmental activists running amok. They demand to force drilling companies to sell larger gas quantities to the Israeli market in order to reduce fossil fuel usage by cars and factories.

The committee led by Shaul Tzemach, general manger of the Energy Ministry recommended that the prime minister force drilling companies to sell 450 billion cubic meters of gas. This should suffice for the market’s energy needs for the next 25 years. The amount is about half of the cubic meters 800 billion gas found in the Mediterranean Sea.

The committee estimated that a small number of households alongside many factories would be connected to a natural gas delivery infrastructure. The estimate also foresaw a transition to natural gas powered automobiles.

Upon receiving the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Gas is an energy resource which endows Israel with a new economic horizon. It could grant us economic power and economic independence. I think it’s important we develop it in a wise, responsible manner. I intend to study the report and introduce decisions which will bring about prosperity.”

According to the committee’s recommendations, large gas fields (“Tamar” “Leviatahn”) with over 200 billion cubic meters of gas will retain 50% of their gas for the needs of the Israeli market. Medium size gas fields with over 100-200 cubic meters will retain 40% for said purpose.

בנימין נתניהו מקבל את הדו”ח משאול צמח (צילום: עמוס בן גרשום, לע”מ)

Netnayahu and Shaul Tzemach (Photo: Amos ben Gershom ,GPO)

The goal of these limitations is to ensure that even if a certain gas reservoir is compromised due to a military act, natural disaster or drilling malfunction, gas can be obtained from other resources. No such limitations were recommended for tiny reservoirs (less than 25 billion cubic meters) in order to encourage entrepreneurs to develop them.

In reaction to the report, the Environmental Protection Ministry issued a harsh statement accusing Energy Ministry officials of a ‘clearance sale’ of Israel’s natural resources. According to the statement, the Energy Ministry is trying to “deny the public access to green cheap energy,” by protecting the drilling companies’ interests.

Officials at the Environmental Protection Ministry commented that the committee overestimated the extent of Israel’s natural gas resources.

Environmentalist organizations also have their say on the report. Adv. Amit Bracha, head of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V’din) called the prime minister to reject the report and ensure that Israel’s energy needs will be kept for the next 50 years, doubling the report’s recommendations. This means totally cancelling natural gas export until the discovery of new gas fields.

Yael Cohen-Faran, general manger of the Israeli Energy Forum, criticized the report in saying that the Prime minister’s willingness to forfeit such an important strategic asset as natural gas is “conduct fitting a third world country, not a member of the OECD.”

The committee denies the report is biased in favor of the drilling companies.

A committee member told Ynet that Israel undoubtedly has reserves of cubic meters 800 billion gas and it’s highly probable that cubic meters 150 billion

will be discovered. “A market as small as the Israeli market has no use for so much natural gas,” he says.

He claims that the committee did not recommend maintaining gas reserves for longer than 25 years since by then it will be hard to predict if natural gas will keep on being the cheapest cleanest available energy source. If technological developments introduce clean energy at a cheaper price, Israel will be left with large quantities of unusable unmarketable natural gas.