Israel, Greece and Cyprus to Explore Building Joint Gas Pipeline to Europe

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Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu review a military guard of honor in Cyprus on January 28, 2016.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu review a military guard of honor in Cyprus on January 28, 2016.Credit: AP

Israel, Greece and Cyprus will explore the possibility of building a natural gas pipeline to Europe, tapping huge gas reserves discovered in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years, leaders of the three countries said yesterday.

Groups of specialists will be appointed to assess the pipeline idea, and plans are proceeding to create an undersea  electricity cable to Europe, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Nicosia.

“These are two practical things we are moving on,” Netanyahu said, flanked by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. “These are momentous goals and by working together we can advance them more effectively than we can separately,” Netanyahu added. Tsipras said Greece can act as a bridge for the transfer of east Mediterranean gas to the rest of the European Union. 

Beyond energy issues, the Greek prime minister, whose country has been the transit point for most of the recent wave of refugees reaching Europe from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, said the leaders agreed that dealing with the largest migration of people since World War II means tackling the problem “at its root” — poverty and war. 

Anastasiades said that additional financial support and economic development in war-torn areas would help alleviate the migration crisis. “Our states share the same values as well as the conviction that in order to effectively counter multiple challenges confronting us on a local, regional and international level, we must work collectively,” Anastasiades said at a news conference.

The leaders said they would meet again in the second half of this year. 

Israel has reported some of the largest gas finds in the past decade and Cyprus confirmed a discovery in 2011, making both potential exporters. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has said experts estimate there are between 10,000 billion cubic meters to 15,000 billion cubic meters of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean basin, which includes Israel, Egypt and Cyprus — enough to supply domestic needs as well as Europe.

This month an Israeli exploration group announced it had discovered signs of another large natural gas field off Israel’s coast, building on the Tamar and Leviathan discoveries in 2009 and 2010. The group said a resource report showed there could be an estimated 8.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas at the Daniel East and West fields. 

While some of Israel’s offshore gas will be for domestic use, the country is facing the challenge of finding a way to export what it doesn’t need, either via pipelines or liquid natural gas facilities, which could require deals with Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus.

Not all experts are convinced an undersea electricity cable to Europe is a genuine possibility. “It’s not feasible for commercial and political reasons,” said Michael Leigh, a former director-general in the European Commission and now a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, specializing in East Mediterranean gas. “It’s pie in the sky.”

In other developments in the energy sector, Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay called on Israel’s natural gas producers, a group led by a cartel consisting of Houston-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group, to act to lower the price of their gas. He said he would call for an urgent cabinet discussion on the implications of the drop in global oil prices on the use of natural gas in Israel, adding that the drop in oil prices renders the use of natural gas by industry and in the transportation sector unfeasible. This could lead to a shift in the use of more polluting sources of energy such as fuel oil that in turn would endanger the health of the public, he added. 

Gabbay’s comments came the same week that a Phoenicia Flat Glass Industries plant  announced that was indeed seeking to switch from using natural gas to fuel oil due to the drop  in oil prices. 

With reporting by Avi Bar-Eli, Zafrir Rinat and Ora Coren.

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