Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, once made a rueful remark about her country’s geographical location:

  • “Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.”

But, now, new discoveries are redrawing the energy map of the Middle East – not in terms of oil, but rather natural gas. In an in-depth report for the Financial Times, Tobias Buck explains how offshore explanation in the eastern Mediterranean is transforming the geopolitics of the region:

  • “Discovered in January 2009, [the Tamar gasfield] was the biggest gas find in the world that year, and by far the biggest ever made in Israeli waters. But the record held for barely two years. In December 2010, Tamar was dwarfed by the discovery of the Leviathan gasfield some 20 miles farther east – the largest deepwater gas reservoir found anywhere in the world over the past decade. The two fields, together with a string of smaller discoveries, will cover Israel’s domestic demand for gas for at least the next 25 years, and still leave hundreds of billions of cubic feet for sale abroad. The government take from the gasfields alone is forecast to reach at least $140bn over the next three decades – a staggering sum for a relatively small economy such as Israel’s.”

But there may well be more to come:

  • “Experts are convinced that Tamar and Leviathan will not be the last big Israeli discoveries. They point to the US Geological Survey, which estimates that the subsea area that runs from Egypt all the way north to Turkey, also known as the Levantine Basin, contains more than 120 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Israeli waters account for some 40 per cent of the total…”

From an Israeli point of view, the discoveries may have come in the nick of time. As a “barren energy island, forced to import every drop of fuel” Israel was dependent on a gas pipeline from Egypt:

  • “Initially hailed as a sign of friendship and co-operation, the pipeline has since emerged as an object of hate for many Egyptians, who resent the sale of cheap gas to Israel at a time when Egypt itself faces chronic energy supply problems. The pipeline has been blown up no fewer than 14 times during the past 18 months, and the supply deal has now in effect been cancelled.”

It is no wonder that the current Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu has described the discoveries as “manna from heaven”.

Of course, the Israeli situation is just one small part of the global natural gas revolution –which encompasses not only conventional gasfields, but also shale gas and the emergence of a global natural gas market through the shipping of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

As already noted on the Deep End, this is not revolution without problems, but for better or worse (or rather for better and worse) it will change the world.

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