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ENERGY TECH
Israeli gas finds secure its self sufficiency
by Staff Writers
Hadera, Israel (AFP) May 22, 2013


Syria's jihadists have edge, control oil
Beirut, Lebanon (UPI) May 22, 2013 - The seizure of Syrian oil fields by jihadist rebels of the al-Nusra Front could accelerate the breakup of Syria amid a conflict-driven reshaping of the Middle East's geopolitical landscape.

The European Union lifted a 2011 embargo on Syrian oil April 22 in what was intended as a move to aid the moderate rebel groups being supported by the West and Saudi Arabia.

But they haven't got much out of that because it's the anti-Western jihadists who took control of most of the fields captured from the Damascus regime of President Bashar Assad in late 2012.

Al-Nusra rebels are processing the crude themselves, selling refined products to fill their warchests. Industry sources say a single tankerload can make a profit of to $10,000.

"In some areas, al-Nusra has struck deals with government forces to allow the transfer of crude across the front lines to the Mediterranean coast," British security analyst Julian Borger observed in the British daily The Guardian.

"The stranglehold that the al-Nusra Front and its allies have achieved over Syria's oil fields signals a decisive moment in the conflict that will shape the rapidly and violently evolving map of the new Middle East."

This has greatly strengthened the hard-line jihadists, the very people the European Union and the West wanted to diminish, and imposed greater difficulties on the pro-Western rebel forces, such as the Free Syrian Army backed by Saudi Arabia.

"More importantly, as so often in history, control over hydrocarbons has solidified new lines on the map," Borger noted.

"The fact that the Syrian army has withdrawn from the heart of the country and the victorious Salafist groups have not pressed their attack but instead entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with Damascus over the oil, show that both are satisfied with the dividing lines ...

"With the rise of al-Nusra, the importance of the Syrian-Iraqi border, forged nearly a century ago by Britain and France in the Sykes-Picot agreement, is eroding fast as Sunni Salafist groups on both sides find common cause ...

"While the makings of a Sunni mini-state are emerging ... in Upper Mesopotamia, stretching from Turkey to central Iraq, a Kurdish state is forming to the east, again crystallized with the help of oil."

Al-Nusra's oil processing is carried out at makeshift, open-air refineries in resource-rich Deir Ezzor and al-Raqqa provinces in eastern Syria, where the group linked to al-Qaida seized control in 2012 along with its allies.

They also overran oil fields in Syria's Kurdish region in the northeastern al-Hassakeh governate near the border with Iraq. These fields, operated by Royal Dutch Shell, Total of France and others before the fighting, produce high-quality crude.

It's not clear what the rebels' oil output or refining capacity is but it's undoubtedly only a fraction of the 400,000 barrels per day Assad's regime was producing before the civil war began March 15, 2011.

Industry sources say Damascus continued limited production for domestic refining amid the fighting, estimated at 160,000 bpd in October 2012. The International Energy Agency estimated production later slipped to less than 130,000 bpd.

When the European Union imposed the oil ban to cripple the regime, Syria's reserves stood at 2.5 billion barrels.

That's chicken feed in terms of major producers like Saudi Arabia, with reserves of 262 billion barrels and an output of around 10 million bpd, but it earned the regime around $4 billion a year. That accounted for around one-third of Syria's trade.

However, Syria almost certainly has significant natural gas reserves offshore under the eastern Mediterranean, where Israel and Cyprus have already made big strikes and Lebanon plans to start exploration in 2014.

Gas production from huge offshore deposits along its Mediterranean coast is enabling Israel to shift from costly and unreliable imports to a growing self-sufficiency and the potential to become an energy exporter.

Politicians and lobbyists are already fiercely grappling over how much of the newly-discovered natural resource can be sold abroad, with the environmental lobby urging caution over the level of exports.

Speaking at the control room in Hadera of the country's largest power plant, Eli Glickman, president of state-owned Israel Electric Corporation (IEC), pointed to Israel's dependence on gas and coal imports.

"In case of problems, we have no backup in the neighbourhood," he said.

But in the past few years, two high-yield gas fields, Tamar and Leviathan, have been discovered off the coast of northern Israel, fundamentally changing the equation.

When the first gas from Tamar was delivered two months ago, Haaretz daily hailed it as "the great lucky event of this decade," waxing lyrical about how exports could mend and even improve ties with Arab neighbours.

For IEC vice president Yasha Hain, the most important issue is that the gas finds end uncertainty over the security of Israel's energy supplies.

The 250 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas from Tamar, which lies 80 kilometres (43 nautical miles) west of the northern port city of Haifa, are earmarked solely for the internal Israeli market, which will be "enough for more than the next 50 years," Hain told AFP.

And the gas reserves in the Leviathan field, which is twice as large, could be used in part for export.

Within five years, Israel will be able to provide electricity to Cyprus by means of an underwater cable, he said.

"It should be ready by 2018," he said.

"From Cyprus, it will go on to Crete and Greece. Italy should be connected to us by these means in 2021."

Leviathan is the largest gas deposit found in the world in a decade, and its 540 bcm could supply the entire electricity demand of Europe for a year.

But there are already political hurdles.

Around half of Israel's 120 MPs signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, saying it should be parliament that "debates and legislates" about gas exports, since the issue has weighty "financial, social and environmental ramifications."

The concerns are being driven by the environmental lobby which wants to see Israel meet its own needs before exporting the bulk of its newfound energy resources.

Using natural gas to generate electricity produces significantly less sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust particles than using coal, which still accounts for over 60 percent of the fuel currently used in Israeli power plants.

A decision is expected this month.

A possible compromise could see a quota of gas reserved for domestic use, or keeping reserves in Israel long enough to ensure sufficient independent gas supplies to also benefit future generations.

Foreign strategists and corporations, as well as US and Australian concerns, are confident at least some of the reserves will be exported.

Liquefying Leviathan's gas so it can be easily exported by tanker is also an option under serious consideration, perhaps in partnership with Cyprus.

For Hain, there is a biblical twist to the story.

"Moses promised us the land of honey and milk," he quipped.

"I would say that after 4,000 years, we can use also gas, and that way, our milk will be much cheaper."

.


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