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Israeli Natural Gas: Midsummer Update

explosion at natural gas pipeline in El-Arish. AP photo

1. Egypt-to-Israel gas pipeline attacked again as Sinai descends into chaos. Yesterday, the pipeline in the northern Sinai that brings natural gas from Egypt to Israel was attacked for the third time this month and the fifth time since the protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak. Gunmen approached the pipeline in two trucks, used rocket-propelled grenades to punch a hole in it, then drove off as Egyptian troops approached. There were no casualties. The attack further delays the resumption of supply to Israel following the last attack on July 12.

“According to the partial information we have, this explosion only affects the export of Egyptian gas to Israel,” said Amit Mor, CEO and energy specialist at the Eco Energy consulting firm. “It was directed against Israel and will not affect future supplies of gas to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon…I think the major consumers and government all have given up on the supply of Egyptian gas to Israel…. The resumption of the full contractual obligation of gas supply to Israel can be used as a test-case of the Egyptian government to maintain its international obligations vis-a-vis foreign direct investments in Egypt on the one hand, and its future relations with Israel on the other.”

The cut-off of Egyptian natural gas implies higher short-term electricity prices for Israelis and greater urgency with regard to the development of Israel’s natural gas discoveries in the Mediterranean. The repeated acts of sabotage also reflect an increasingly chaotic state of affairs in the Sinai Peninsula, which threatens not only the safety of the Sinai’s residents but also suggests the potential for an arms smuggling free-for-all across the Sinai-Gaza border.

The Egyptian army is being more and more brazenly confronted in the area. The day before the pipeline attack, about a hundred masked, armed men on motorcycles and in cars swarmed el-Arish waving Islamist flags and shouting slogans, eventually attacking the police station. In the shootout that resulted, an Egyptian army officer and three civilian bystanders, ages 13, 17 and 70, were killed. Nineteen more people were wounded, including four officers.

photo - Noble Energy

2. More gas found at Tamar. A new, deeper layer of natural gas has been discovered in the Tamar field, according to a report by Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration. (Delek holds 15.6% of Tamar in a consortium led by Houston’s Noble Energy.) The new reserve, Layer D, is underneath Tamar 3 and is believed to be 25 meters wide.  The full proportions of the reserve are not yet known. Without it, Tamar is estimated to contain 9.1 tcf of gas.

Tamar is expected to begin to supply Israel with natural gas in 2013.

3. Another source of natural gas off Israel’s coast? Natural gas seeps have been found in shallow water (40-50 meters deep) about ten kilometers off the coast near Tel Aviv, Acco and Ashdod. (The Leviathan natural gas field, in contrast, is 5,200 meters below the seabed at a water depth of 1,680 meters.) The seeps are said to have the potential to dwarf the huge discovery at Leviathan, but it is not yet clear whether it will be possible to extract the resource.

Haifa University researchers haven’t found the source of the seeps, but suspect that they come from hydrates, which are methane molecules trapped in ice under the seabed. (The Leviathan and Tamar resources are in rock, not ice.) The gas seeps were discovered through seismic tests and have “set off quite a noise in academic circles,” according to Haaretz. Geophysicist Yitzhak Makovsky of Haifa University’s Leon Charney School of Marine Sciences claims that “[t]he reserves of hydrates are several magnitudes greater than the proved gas discoveries.”

The seeps are interesting not only for their potential as a gas resource but also for what they suggest about future construction projects. Noble and Delek will need to build a pipeline on a stable seabed to connect their natural gas platform to shore. As Makovsky points out, the seeps might indicate seabed areas that are too porous to support such a pipeline. Haaretz adds, “The gas seep findings are also intriguing for entrepreneurs who envision the building of artificial islands off Israel’s shore. Again, they need to be sure that any building would be done on stable seabed. Such an artificial island is planned off Herzliya, to house an international airport.”

4. Hezbollah grows more bellicose over maritime border with Israel. See my post of July 21 for more on this.