TEL AVIV, June 12 Israel will keep more than
half of its estimated natural gas reserves for domestic use,
Energy Minister Silvan Shalom said on Wednesday.
Once totally dependent on fuel imports, Israel has made the
largest offshore gas discoveries in the world over the past
decade off its Mediterranean coastline. It is expected to become
an exporter by the end of the decade.
But Israeli leaders are struggling to find the balance
between how much gas to keep and how much to export. Though
Israel wants to ensure its own energy independence, without a
significant export quota foreign companies have said they would
not invest in further exploration because the Israeli market is
A government committee recommended last year that Israel
keep enough gas to satisfy its own needs for 25 years, which
comes out to a bit less than half of the country's total
reserves, currently estimated at 33.5 trillion cubic feet (tcf).
"I think we are now in agreement on adopting the position
that we have to increase the amount that must remain in Israel,"
Shalom told Israel Radio after a meeting Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday.
"I think the prime minister is also of the opinion that we
have to ensure energy independence: we have to ensure there is
gas in the coming years."
Although Shalom did not specify the amount to be retained
for domestic use, he said it would be greater than the 50
percent recommended by the government committee.
"I believe there is pretty wide agreement among all the
parties as to the amount that should remain in Israel," he said.
"I believe it is the correct percentage, a percentage that will
open the way for energy independence ... and also enable the
companies to come here and drill to discover other gas fields so
that the gas reserves will be much bigger."
The Tamar field, which came online in March with an
estimated 10 tcf of gas, can meet Israel's needs for decades.
The nearby Leviathan field, which is expected to begin
production in 2016, is estimated to hold 19 tcf.
A number of lawmakers and environmental groups have demanded
a large majority of Israel's reserves be kept for domestic use.
Texas-based Noble Energy, which leads the Leviathan
group, has said that because Israel is such a small market, it
could not commit to developing the field unless a significant
amount of gas was allowed to be sold abroad.