Israel is in the planning stages of developing its Leviathan natural gas field, the world’s largest offshore gas discovery in 10 years, with an estimated 19 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of reserves.
How that field will be developed is still not settled. First and foremost, Israel wants to make sure it has enough energy to make it self-sufficient.
But plenty of energy companies are lobbying hard to set a high ceiling for exports. One of them, Texas-based Noble Energy, which leads a consortium of energy and exploration companies, recently warned the government it could not commit to developing the Leviathan unless much of the gas could be sold abroad, Reuters reported.
That’s an understandable position. A report the consortium filed with the Israeli Ministry of Energy estimates the cost of developing the Leviathan at $4.5 billion, again according to Reuters, and that doesn’t even include infrastructure for exports.
Clearly, energy companies aren’t about to make that kind of investment without a reasonable return on it, and the domestic Israeli market likely is too small to fill the bill, especially when you factor in Israel’s other big offshore gas field, Tamar, with an estimated 9 tcf of reserves, and the possibility of yet a third. A U.S.-Israeli group, including Noble Energy, has discovered signs of the field, called Karish 1, off the coast of Haifa, which could hold up to 2 tcf.
However you look at it, it seems likely that Israel, for most of its existence an energy poor country, is poised to become an energy exporter.
At the same time, the United States is gearing up to export its own gas from the Marcellus Shale region, some of the richest deposits of which are right here in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. One utility, Virginia-based Dominion Resources, has already filed paperwork to convert a plant on the Chesapeake Bay to export gas from the Marcellus Shale field in Pennsylvania, CBS News has reported, and several other companies are interested in a piece of the action.
There’s a long way to go before the two countries ramp up exports, and likely there are plenty of buyers out there for natural gas, but it’s interesting to speculate how Israel and United States, two of the closest allies in the world today, could also become competitors in the gas business.
Nothing wrong with that; competition is healthy. But as any businessman will tell you, it’s good to know who your competitors — real or potential — are.