Israel Taps an Offshore Natural Gas Field
JERUSALEM — Israel moved closer to its goal of energy independence on Sunday as natural gas from a large offshore field began flowing into the country, a harbinger of important change that will benefit the country strategically and economically, officials said.
“We are taking an important step toward energy independence,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the natural gas started flowing from the Tamar reservoir in the Mediterranean Sea to a terminal in the Israeli port of Ashdod, a journey that officials said would take 24 hours.
“We have advanced the natural gas sector in Israel over the last decade, which will be good for the Israeli economy and for all Israelis,” Mr. Netanyahu added.
Some questions were raised in Orthodox circles in Israel as to why the Tamar field had gone online on the Jewish Sabbath, the religiously mandated day of rest. During his traditional Passover visit to the country’s leading rabbis on Sunday, President Shimon Peres called that decision a “mistake” and said he did not know the reason for it, according to Ynet, a Hebrew news Web site, and some ultra-Orthodox Web sites.
A partnership of Noble Energy, based in Houston, and two Israeli companies, Delek Group and Dor Gas Explorations, carried out drilling operations at the Tamar site, about 56 miles west of the northern port city of Haifa, and discovered large gas reserves there in 2009.
Israel’s Ministry of Energy and Water Resources says that the Tamar field will supply 50 to 80 percent of Israel’s natural gas needs over the next 10 years. About 40 percent of electricity in Israel has been generated from natural gas in recent years, and the rate of natural gas consumption is expected to rise to 50 percent by 2015, the ministry said.
The Tamar field went into production as a smaller natural gas reserve, known as Yam Thetis, at a site farther south, began to run out.
But the subsequent discovery in 2010 of another major natural gas field off Israel’s northern coast, known as Leviathan, has even positioned Israel as a future energy exporter. Leviathan, discovered through the work of a partnership between Noble Energy and local companies, was said to have been one of the world’s largest offshore gas finds in a decade.
The Israeli government said in 2011 that it would set a tax rate on energy profits at 52 to 62 percent. Mr. Netanyahu said at the time that some of the money would go into a fund devoted to education and the security of Israel.
The development of Israel’s natural gas sector in recent years has lessened the country’s dependence on foreign energy imports in an unstable and largely hostile region. The vulnerability of Israel’s supplies was underscored in the months after the 2011 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, when unidentified attackers bombed a gas pipeline in the Egyptian Sinai more than a dozen times, apparently to disrupt the flow to Israel.
Under a deal signed in 2005, Egypt had been supplying Israel’s Electric Corporation, a mostly state-owned utility, with up to 40 percent of the natural gas it needs.
Offshore exploration efforts have also underscored the need for clear maritime borders. Israel and Lebanon have been locked in a dispute over an area of the Mediterranean Sea that is potentially rich with energy resources. NYTimes