Israel expects decision on East Med gas pipeline to Europe in 2019

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Israel expects a decision to go ahead with the construction of a 2,000 kilometer (1,243 mile) pipeline linking vast eastern Mediterranean gas resources to Europe to be made by early 2019, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Israel's Energy minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during a news conference with his European counterparts, in Tel Aviv, Israel April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The pipeline, which will cross from Israel and Cyprus into Greece and Italy in deep waters, would mark a major milestone for the rapidly developing gas industry in the Levantine Basin in the east corner of the Mediterranean, offering access to a large market.

The European Union considers the pipeline, estimated to cost $7 billion, as “extremely competitive” as the four partner countries continue construction plans for the technically complex line, Steinitz told Reuters late on Wednesday on the sidelines of the CERAWeek conference in Houston.

“This summer we will reach a detailed agreement between the four founding states of the East Med pipeline and at the beginning of 2019 we hope to see a final investment decision,” he said.

The pipeline, known as East Med, will be able to transfer between 9 to 12 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually, he said. The project owners are IGI Poseidon, a joint venture between Greece’s natural gas firm DEPA, and Italian energy group Edison.

More than 900 bcm of gas have been discovered offshore Israel while Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field holds an additional 128 bcm. Both areas are expected to hold more reserves.

Israel, where gas consumption has risen sharply over the past decade, will have 400 to 500 bcm available to export, Steinitz said.

The vast amounts of gas discovered since the early 2000s in Israel have transformed the region’s economic reality as it signed a number of deals to sell natural gas to neighbors Jordan and Egypt.

Israel is also considering the construction of a pipeline to Turkey, where gas demand is rapidly growing, although the project appears to have stalled in recent years amid political tensions between the two countries.

“We can export to Egypt, Jordan and Turkey and still have enough extra gas for the pipeline,” he said.

Israel plans to launch this summer a new auction for 20 to 30 exploration offshore blocks to trigger the development of further gas resources, Steinitz said.

An auction late last year nevertheless attracted limited interest with Greece’s Energean and a consortium of Indian companies picking up blocks.

In a sign of Israel’s growing efforts to attract foreign investors into the budding energy industry, the country recently opened an economic mission in Houston.

Reporting by Ron Bousso; Editing by Susan Thomas