Gas to Gaza? Not A Pipe Dream

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
The Israeli Leviathan natural gas processing rig near the Israeli city of Caesarea. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Talks on a gas pipeline that would cross political faultlines and deliver reliable energy to the impoverished Gaza Strip have moved from the abstract to the concrete in recent weeks, three officials with knowledge of the process told Reuters.

Israeli, Palestinian, Qatari and European interests have converged in recent weeks with the aim of getting gas flowing to Gaza in 2023, say the officials.

The plan would see natural gas from the deepwater Leviathan field operated by Chevron in the eastern Mediterranean flow through an existing pipeline into Israel, and from there into Gaza through a proposed new extension.

Under the arrangement, which has yet to be finalized, the Israeli side of the planned pipeline would be funded by Qatar and the section in Gaza paid for by the European Union, the officials told Reuters.

If successful, the pipeline project would for the first time in years provide a steady energy source to the Gaza Strip, ending rolling blackouts that have helped cripple the economy of the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

“We are talking about Gaza having 24 hours of electricity, providing a basis for major economic growth and a contributor to peace and stability,” said Ariel Ezrahi, director of energy for the Office of the Quartet, a group promoting peace efforts between the Palestinians and Israelis which reports to the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

“Recent events have constituted a real breakthrough,” said Ezrahi, who chairs the Gas for Gaza task force that has been funded by the Dutch government since 2015.

LEVIATHAN

The Quartet office sees the Palestinians initially buying about 0.2 billion cubic meters (BCM) of gas a year, perhaps rising to 1 BCM as the plant expands and other consumers join.

The European Union last week committed an initial 5 million euros to fund the Gaza portion of the pipeline, which will run about 2.5 miles and cost around 20 million euros.

Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip Mohammed Al-Emadi last week told Gaza-based news agency SAWA that his country would fund the Israeli segment of the pipeline, which officials say will stretch some 30 miles and cost around 70 million euros.

Palestinian and Israeli officials told Reuters that Qatar is ready to pay for the pipeline in Israel. Emadi’s office and Qatar’s government press office did not respond to Reuters queries.

Israel’s Leviathan field is already exporting gas to neighboring Jordan and Egypt.

Asked about the Gaza pipeline, Chevron said it looked “forward to supporting Israel’s strategy to develop its energy resources for the benefit of the country and the region” but that it did not comment “on matters of a commercial nature.”

Its main Israeli partner in Leviathan, Delek Drilling, declined to comment.