Netanyahu, Don't Gamble Away Our Energy Future

Instead of kowtowing to gas companies, the government of Israel should be doing everything in its power — and it has the power — to guarantee the country's energy independence.

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A growing share of Israel's electricity is produced from natural gas from the Tamar gas field off the Mediterranean coast. Credit: Albatross Aerial Perspective
Yossi Langotsky

As an oil geologist who headed several oil exploration companies in Israel and abroad, and who initiated the huge Tamar and Dalit gas drilling projects in the Mediterranean Sea (but who today has no financial interest in them), I feel an obligation to express my disappointment and concern with the Israeli government’s handling of the gas issue.

It seems as if things have been turned upside down; instead of the government acting like the “landlord,” the one who has the rights and national responsibility for the matter, the gas companies are acting like the landlords. That’s why they dare to make all kinds of demands on the government instead of the government firmly insisting that they stop making threats.

Ever since the discovery of the Tamar gas field, the gas companies have — in order to maximize their profits, a legitimate goal in and of itself — been conducting an aggressive campaign of pressure and intimidation, based on deception and disinformation. This has led to the gradual capitulation of the sovereign, with the worrisome and embarrassing result we are currently witnessing.

Geologists dealing with the issue are aware that there is no chance of discovering additional gas reserves of a magnitude similar to those in the Tamar and Leviathan fields, and that the volume of gas that will be at Israel’s disposal in the future from the Mediterranean will reach around 1,300 billion cubic meters. This volume can supply the country’s needs for 50 years, making it what the world conventionally regards as a strategic security volume. Two years ago Israel decided to gamble with its energy future by allowing 40 percent of these reserves to be exported, a scenario which, if realized, will lead to “our gas” being depleted within 25 years.

In other words, the consequences of that short-sighted and irresponsible decision will be the emptying of half of Israel’s emergency stores to satisfy the appetite of the Israeli and foreign gas companies that are seeking quick profits, as well as treasury officials interested in the royalties.

All this is happening even though the Oil Law clearly states that the energy minister has the authority to force the producers to supply the state with sufficient gas to meet all its needs.

Is U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who called on Israel to adopt business standards that encourage investment – that is, the gas companies – and who expressed concern about Israel’s energy future, prepared to guarantee that the United States will officially commit to supplying all of Israel’s gas needs when our gas runs out in 25 years, whatever the geopolitical and economic conditions happen to be?

The recent media reports indicate that the Israeli government is continuing to tremble and kowtow to the Israeli and foreign gas companies, who day and night issue new demands in an attempt to make the government fold. The repeated threat that the gas will remain deep underground is a hollow threat of poker players, who are pretending that they will abandon gas worth hundreds of billions of dollars. This impertinent ultimatum proves that the gas companies believe that their opponent is weak and unwilling to fight for its rights.

It’s strange that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime friend, whom I remember from the days of the Sayeret Matkal elite unit as a brave fighter and commander, is acting in a way that is liable to be interpreted as cowardice by the gas companies and the Americans. Before it is too late to prevent an irreversible mistake, I call on the members of the security cabinet to wake up and reevaluate the issue of gas exports, and to fix a price for the gas, along with a mechanism for adjusting it later on.

You have the power to decide the fate of this singular national treasure, which has the potential to guarantee our energy independence, not just from today to tomorrow, but for decades to come. No short-term security arguments justify long-term damage to the State of Israel’s national energy security.

The writer is a geologist.

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