The Central Bureau of Statistics has stopped reporting data on exports of Israeli natural gas, saying that doing so would disclose commercial secrets.
The agency confirmed that it had changed its policy on reporting gas exports, “camouflaging” them by moving the dollar amounts to other export categories. The CBS declined to say which categories, saying it sought to preserve the commercial secrecy of Leviathan’s partners, U.S. company Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Drilling and Ratio.
Explaining its new policy, the bureau said: “Natural gas in Israel is a developing sector which contains information of enormous importance. The Statistics Ordinance mandates the confidentiality of information received from public bodies, in order to ensure that data that is published is not disclosed to identify the reporting entities.
“In recent weeks, the CBS has begun to thoroughly examine the manner and content of publishing data on the all-important issue of the gas sector,” it said.
Gas exports are not only important economically; they have an important political dimension. For Israel, they help cement relations with two Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. In the case of Jordan, natural gas from Israel is a critical source of energy. But importing Israeli gas is controversial, especially in Jordan. Last month, the Hashemite kigdom's parliament approved a draft law to ban imports of Israeli gas to the country just days after they started.
In addition, because Israeli gas production comes from just two fields, Tamar and Leviathan, export data effectively provides inside information about their operations.
Until now, the bureau issued figures on exports of natural gas from Tamar to Jordan, purchased by the Arab Potash and Jordan Bromine companies. But after gas began to flow from the much bigger Leviathan field earlier this year, both to domestic and export markets, the bureau ceased reporting the data.
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The figures on gas exports appear in the agency’s monthly reports in the mining and quarrying category. Before this year they were tiny, amounting to $49.2 million in 2019 and $36.8 million in 2018.
But in January exports of natural gas from Leviathan to Egypt began, as well as to the private company Dolphinus, and to Jordan’s National Electric Power Company, known as Nepco. The Leviathan exports are much greater – between 5 billion and 5.5 billion cubic meters a year, 40 to 45 times the export amounts from Tamar.
Despite that, the figure for exports of mining and quarrying products for the first month of 2020 show them to be just $23.6 million, about the same average monthly level as in 2019.
Sources close to the gas companies said they had not stopped gas export data from being disclosed. Noble and Delek control both Tamar and Leviathan, although the fields have different minority partners.
As public companies, Noble and Delek report their natural gas sales every quarter in their financial reports, but they are not expected to provide a breakdown between the two fields, or between export and domestic sales.