Israel, Greece and Cyprus to explore gas pipeline to Europe

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Greece, Israel and Cyprus will explore the possibility of building a natural gas pipeline to Europe, tapping huge gas reserves discovered in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years, leaders of the three countries said on Thursday.

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Israel has reported some of the largest gas finds in the past decade and EU member Cyprus confirmed a discovery in 2011, making both potential exporters.

Groups of specialists will be appointed to assess the pipeline idea, and plans are proceeding to create a subsea electricity cable to Europe, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Nicosia.

“These are two practical things we are moving on,” Netanyahu said, flanked by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has said experts estimate there are 10,000 to 15,000 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas in the east Mediterranean basin, which includes Israel, Egypt and Cyprus -- enough to supply domestic needs as well as Europe.

The 1,500 km EuroAsia Interconnector would send up to 2,000 megawatts (MW) of power generated from the gas fields to Europe via Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

Project managers say a 329 km first phase will link Cyprus and Israel.

The European Union includes the plans among its “projects of common interest”, which are designed to bolster energy security and improve European market integration.

However, not all experts are convinced a subsea electricity cable to Europe is a genuine possibility.

“It’s not feasible for commercial and political reasons,” said Michael Leigh, a former director-general in the European Commission and now a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, specializing in East Mediterranean gas.

“It’s pie in the sky.”

On Sunday, an Israeli exploration group announced it had discovered signs of another large natural gas field off Israel’s coast, building on the Tamar and Leviathan discoveries in 2009 and 2010.

A group lead by Isramco Negev and Modiin Energy said there could be an estimated 8.9 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas at the Daniel East and West fields.

While some of the offshore gas will be for domestic use, Israel’s difficulty is to find a way to export what it doesn’t need, either via pipelines or LNG facilities, which could require deals with Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus.

Additional reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Jason Neely and David Goodman