Environment Minister: Israel Should Keep Its Natural Gas

In first speech since being appointed, Amir Peretz calls for extreme caution before approving export of Israel's precious national resource.

Itai Trilnick
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Itai Trilnick

The government must exercise caution in the export of its natural gas, said Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnuah) in his first statement on the matter since taking over his position.

“We must protect the natural-gas reserves as a national asset and as part of our long-term economic activity,” he told TheMarker. “We must do everything possible to keep the natural gas in the country over the long term as Israel gradually switches to it.

“This transition will lead to reduced costs for Israeli industry as well as lower product costs. It will also lower the cost of living for families, and for public and private transportation, as consumption increases. These factors will lead to increased competition and economic growth.”

In light of the intention of the Tamar gas field’s owners to sign export contracts soon, Peretz said he would submit a proposal to declare natural gas a national asset, avoiding what he calls an "absurd situation" whereby the country exports all its gas and therefore has none available here.

“We in Israel don’t know what the real natural gas reserves are," said Professor Alon Tal, who was on Hatnuah's list of candidates but not high enough to get into the government. "Before we start making deals with tycoons, we need to remember what happened in the United Kingdom. The British discovered natural gas in the North Sea and wanted to export it — and they ended up having to import it back.”

Under the previous environmental protection minister, Gilad Erdan (now the communications minister and the home front defense minister), the Environmental Protection Ministry opposed exporting natural gas.

But the Tzemach Committee, which was appointed to look into the uses of natural gas, accepted the assertions of the natural gas companies and said that the estimated future consumption of natural gas in Israel did not justify investing in the development of an additional reserve over the next few years. The committee therefore recommended keeping about 45 percent of the gas and exporting the rest, with some restrictions. Alona Schaefer-Karo, the director-general of the Environmental Protection Ministry and a member of the committee, opposed the recommendation and submitted a minority opinion against it.

The Environmental Protection Ministry claimed that approval should not be given until a more comprehensive probe of the offshore reserves was conducted and until natural gas had become a more significant part of Israel’s economy and future demand could be more accurately gauged.

Erdan firmly opposed the attempts by the Finance Ministry and the Energy and Water Resources Ministry to pass through the Tzemach Committee’s recommendations for government approval.

A natural gas drilling rig.Credit: Bloomberg

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