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Israel's controversial Leviathan field begins pumping gas

Israel wants to become a regional energy giant [AFP]

Date of publication: 31 December, 2019

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Israel will begin delivering gas from the Leviathan and Tamar fields to Egypt on Wednesday, a spokesman said.
Israel's offshore Leviathan field began pumping gas on Tuesday in what the operating consortium called a "historic turning point in the history of the Israeli economy".

"For the first time in its history, Israel to become a significant natural gas exporter," partners Noble Energy, Delek Drilling and Ratio said in a joint statement.

Deliveries to neighbouring Egypt are expected to begin as soon as Wednesday, a spokesman for Delek said. Gas sales to Egypt were given the final stamp of approval by Israel Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz earlier this month.

Leviathan was discovered in 2010 some 130 kilometres (81 miles) west of the Mediterranean port city of Haifa.

It is estimated to hold 535 billion cubic metres (18.9 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate.

The field will lead to an "immediate" reduction in domestic electricity prices for Israelis, according to the operating consortium. 

Natural gas is set to replace coal as the the main fuel for power generation in Israel.

Besides heralding energy independence, Tel Aviv hopes Leviathan and the smaller Tamar field will enable it to strengthen strategic ties and build new ones.

Delek and US-based Noble last year struck a $15 billion 10-year deal with Egypt's Dolphinus to supply 64 billion cubic metres (2.26 trillion cubic feet).

It will be the first time Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace accord with Israel, imports gas from its neighbour.

Israel's neighbour to the east, Jordan, has been purchasing gas from Tamar on a small scale for nearly three years.

Tamar, which began production in 2013, has estimated reserves of up to 238 billion cubic metres (8.4 trillion cubic feet).

Gas export deals between Israel and its Arab neighbours have courted outrage among the general public in Egypt and Jordan.

Although Jordan signed a peace accord with its neighbour in 1994, launching diplomatic relations after decades of enmity due to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the normalisation of ties with Israel is exceedingly controversial at home. Protesters decried the import deal as supporting the occupation.

Saudi Arabia has also reportedly been in discussions with Israeli officials to import gas, former cabinet member Ayoob Kara said earlier this year.

In Israel, critics are wary of Leviathan starting production for different reasons.

While natural gas is less polluting than coal, it is far from a clean source of energy, and many Israelis are worried Leviathan could bring harmful emissions.

Israel's environmental protection ministry has sought to calm residents and has set up monitoring stations in communities along the northern coast to check for any spike in pollution.

Nevertheless, Israeli public radio reported that some residents had evacuated their homes until results of the air testing are verified.

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