Israeli MK Seeks to Regulate Natural Gas Exports via Legislation

After Knesset regulates state's take in natural gas profits, Avishay Braverman seeks to turn export regulations into law; questions recommendations of Tzemach report.

Knesset Economics Affairs Committee chairman Avishay Braverman intends to seek legislation to regulate Israel's natural gas exports, he announced Monday.

"The issue of natural gas is important enough to be determined through regulation. I intend to launch a process to approve exports by means of Knesset legislation," he said at a committee discussion on recommendations to export more than half of Israel's estimated gas reserves.

The recommendations were drafted by the Tzemach committee, headed by Energy Ministry director general Shaul Tzemach. The committee determined that Israel should plan for its gas needs only for the next 25 years, and stated that the country would likely need about 450 billion cubic meters during that time – less than half of its estimated offshore gas reserves.

The Tzemach committee determined that the country could therefore afford to export 500 billion of its 950 billion cubic meters of gas, with certain restrictions.

Braverman said Monday that the Knesset Economics Committee will discuss shortcomings in the Tzemach report, as well as the monopoly that the Delek Group and its partner, U.S.-based Noble Energy, hold in Israel's natural gas market.

"The subject isn't any less important than the Sheshinski committee conclusions," Braverman said, referring to the recommendations that ultimately led the Knesset to increase the state's take from natural resources from about 33% of profits to between 52% and 62%. The Sheshinski committee was appointed after Israel discovered massive natural gas reserves under its territorial waters off the Mediterranean coast, and the country began to realize how much the gas was worth – and how much the companies mining it could potentially profit from it.

Earlier Monday, the Israel Institute for Economic Planning published a report stating that the Tzemach committee's calculations did not take into account the fact that some gas is lost during production. If demand for gas is higher than anticipated, then Israel could lose as much as $119 billion due to gas lost in production, it claimed.

The Tzemach conclusions have come under sharp criticism since before they were even published. Critics have claimed the committee simultaneously overestimated the amount of gas in the nation's reserves and underestimated the country's needs. Environmental Protection Ministry director general Alona Shefer-Karo, a member of the Economics Committee, called on the state to wait several years before establishing an export policy, given the uncertainty regarding the data.

Advocates of exporting, however, say that it is necessary to fund the development of Israel's gas fields. A large portion of the country's natural gas needs will be met by the new Tamar gas field, which recently went online and is thought to contain 280 billion cubic meters of gas. A larger reserve, Leviathan, is thought to contain 520 billion cubic meters, making it the largest field discovered globally in the last 10 years.  

Albatross
David Bachar