More Gas in the Pipeline

YERUSHALAYIM -

As the debate over the state’s natural gas policy continues to heat up, another natural gas deposit has been discovered about 50 miles northwest of Haifa, according to media reports.

The find, described as “significant,” was announced on Wednesday evening from the Karish 1 well, by the Delek Group, an Israel-based energy firm.

While official analyses of the drilling results will not be published for several weeks, the Delek Group and its partners say there is likely a sizable gas presence in the well.

Preliminary estimates say that Karish 1 probably contains about 57 billion cubic meters of gas, the Delek Group said.

“This is proof of the power of the Israeli gas industry and of the great gas potential that exists off the coast of Israel, and we must keep up the momentum,” said Delek Drilling chairman and Avner Oil Exploration CEO Gideon Tadmor.

However, that potential has triggered a heated debate. Earlier in the week, the issue of gas exports roiled a Knesset Economic Affairs Committee meeting, as it tried to gain some clarity concerning the immense windfall that holds so much promise.

Particularly, the recommendation of the Zemach Committee – headed by Energy and Water Ministry director-general Shaul Zemach – that a maximum of 50 percent, or 500 billion cubic meters, be allowed for export, drew fire.

After committee chairman Avishai Braverman (Labor) pressed Zemach for more clear-cut answers to his questions about the plan without much success, he accused Zemach of being evasive.

“How can a person with your professional experience and education not answer a question for an hour?” he asked.

Opposition leader MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) was also dissatisfied with Zemach’s presentation, and suggested that the decision on exports should be deferred for five years from now, after Israeli consumers know they will have what they need.

“There is a simple thing to do: Just don’t make the decision now,” she said. “Why is the government in such a rush?”

Yacimovich charged that the Zemach Committee was hiding its protocols from the public, adding that “the ambiguity of the committee protocols is not accidental.”

Stressing that there are still many Israeli factories that have not properly considered their need for gas, Dror Sturm, president of the Israeli Institute for Economic Planning, argued that the committee has not correctly calculated future demand.

In a report issued by the Institute, experts asserted that the Zemach Committee’s estimates were grossly awry due to a failure to take into account the amount of gas routinely lost in the production process. In this case, it could result in miscalculation of as much as $119 billion, a loss that would have to be absorbed by the Israeli public.

However, Zemach was not without allies. Amir Hayak, CEO of the Manufacturers Association – which represents many of the industrialists who will rely on natural gas – said that his organization is satisfied with the conclusions of the Zemach Committee.