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Hadera, Israel (AFP) May 22, 2013
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."
Powering The World in the 21st Century at Energy-Daily.com
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