Armed individuals are suspected of blowing up the gas pipeline stretching between Israel and Egypt, Egyptian security officials said Sunday night.
At least six masked militants planted explosives under the pipeline in the town of Bir al-Abd. It transfers gas to el-Arish, the provincial capital of North Sinai, and a cement factory in central Sinai, the officials said.
The explosion sent thick flames of fire shooting into the sky, and authorities stopped the flow of gas to extinguish the fire, officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.
No group immediately claimed the attack.
Gas supply from Egypt to Israel began in 2008 via a gas pipe that passes through the Sinai Peninsula as part of a deal signed between the two countries in 2005.
The Egyptians had committed to supplying Israel with up to one billion cubic meters per year for 20 years as part of the pact. Between 2010 and 2012, the gas pipeline had been blown up over ten times, after the uprising that led to the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had begun.
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In a milestone development for bilateral ties, natural gas from Israeli offshore gas reserves started flowing to Egypt, the two countries’ energy ministers announced in January.
The Israeli gas is being bought by the Egyptian company Dolphinus Holdings, which has contracted to buy 85 billion cubic meters, worth an estimated $19.5 billion, from Israel’s Leviathan, Israel’s largest offshore natural gas field and Tamar fields over 15 years. The gas is being shipped via a subsea pipeline connecting Sinai and Israel to the Idku gas liquefaction plant in Egypt for re-export to Europe.
Following to Sunday's incident, the partners in Leviathan – Israel’s Delek Drilling and Ratio, and the U.S.-based Noble Energy – said that "The EMG pipeline stretching between Egypt and Israel wasn't harmed, nor the pipelines through which the gas is transported from Leviathan. The flow of gas from Leviathan is proceeding as normal.
The EMG pipeline has a planned capacity of around 7 bcm per year, with a possibility of increasing that to around 9 bcm per year via the installation of additional systems.
Texas-based Noble Energy, Israel’s Delek Drilling and Egyptian East Gas Co. have partnered in a venture called EMED, and last year agreed to buy a 39% stake in the subsea EMG pipeline for $518 million that will carry Israeli gas exports to Egypt.
Egypt is battling an Islamic State-led insurgency in Sinai that intensified after the military overthrew of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. The militants have carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting security forces and Christians.
The attacks led to the collapse of a 2005 deal to export Egypt’s natural gas to Israel in 2012. The state-owned Israel Electric Corp had sued the state-owned Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and Egyptian Natural Gas, resulting in a $1.7 billion fine in 2015.
In July last year, Egypt said it reached a deal with the Israel Electric Corp that reduced the fine to $500 million.
In recent years, Israel became a major energy exporter after gas discoveries in the Mediterranean. It signed a $15 billion deal in 2018 to provide Egypt with 64 billion cubic meters of gas over a 10-year period that will help transform both counties into regional energy players.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.