Great Timing to Talk About Gas

Our meeting with the heads of the oil and natural gas companies was planned in advance for yesterday afternoon - well before we knew the sector's biggest news story in recent years would be breaking right at that time.

At the very moment that the four industry representatives walked into the room with us, trading in shares of the partners in the Leviathan exploration site was halted on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Our four guests were Delek Energy chairman Yoram Turbowicz; Isramco CEO Yossi Levy; the CEO of ILD Energy, Ohad Marani; and the controlling shareholder in Modi'in Energy, Tzachi Sultan.

Turbowicz, Israel's former antitrust commissioner, was the only one who knew the news that would be made public minutes later about findings from the Leviathan natural gas exploration site. He seemed upbeat, but it was impossible to read from his expression that Israel would become a gas powerhouse. He refused to spill the beans when his colleagues beseeched him for a preview of the announcement.

When the actual announcement was to be made, Turbowicz excused himself for a few minutes, but when he returned - beaming from ear to ear - the picture was quite obvious.

But he read out the announcement to make it official: "The Leviathan 1 drilling site contains the largest deep-water gas find in the world in the past decade. The reserve contains 16 trillion cubit feet of gas, consistent with prior estimates."

He folded the sheet containing the announcement and concluded simply: "Leviathan is a game changer."

He meant that there was no question now that other international energy companies would be making their way to Israel shortly. From now on, Israel would have to be a gas exporter, because what has already been found in another underwater exploration, the Tamar site, contained enough natural gas to meet Israel's domestic needs for a generation. Turbowicz said Leviathan would be a springboard for additional development, and that the Leviathan find would have far-reaching geopolitical and economic implications for the country.

"Around the world," he said, "the supply of energy is a matter that governments know how to leverage in their relations among one another. The [country] that made the most effective and intensive use of this is Russia. Every country that has reserves like this can enjoy the fruits of this access. Currently, in Israel, we only know how to do military exports, but we will have to forge cooperation between the state and the business sector to maximize the advantage."

When asked if the country did everything right in this regard, how things would look in a decade, Turbowicz said: "We could be a mini superpower in natural gas and maybe oil that will employ a large number of workers in every field - production, transportation, liquification. The energy sector will become one of the most important economic segments in the country."