No Oil for Israel: Israel Mines for Natural Gas

By Fares, Yacine | Harvard International Review, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

No Oil for Israel: Israel Mines for Natural Gas


Fares, Yacine, Harvard International Review


Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once said that the only thing the Jews have against Moses is that he "brought us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!" Israel has always been the barren state, but recent excavations of natural gas and the presence of large shale oil deposits promise to change Israeli energy policy. The consequences of an energy independent Israel are profound, but may not be entirely good for the Middle East.

Israel produces much less oil and natural gas than it consumes and has historically been dependent on its Arab neighbors to supply these energy resources. Israel's small size and barren history make the possibility of an energy-exporting Israel a game-changer in the region. Consider this: today, Israel consumes about 200 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year. It is estimated that the sum total of natural gas that is available to Israel across all excavation sites stands at 24 trillion cubic feet. Not only does such a figure provide tremendous energy security, but it also means that Israel can become a global exporter and energy player.

Israel is also estimated to have 250 billion barrels of shale oil, a substitute for crude that is notoriously difficult to extract. Extraction of shale oil is often done through fracking, a process whose adverse environmental effects are well-known, though hotly contested. Israeli scientists have potentially made a breakthrough in this challenge and have developed new methods of extracting shale oil through underground heating. This new method promises less harm to the environment and requires less water use. The impact of Israeli shale oil becoming accessible is tremendous. To provide some prospective, proven Saudi Arabian oil reserves amount to 260 billion barrels, not much above Israel's estimated shale deposits.

Israeli natural gas is sure to have a more immediate impact on Israeli energy policy than oil will, since the new shale technology is still being refined. There is a clear demand for Israeli natural gas: with eastern Europe clamoring for alternative suppliers of natural gas since the 2009 Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Israel not only has a market, but a distinct geopolitical advantage, in that it is so close to its potential customers.

Israel's natural gas excavations in the Mediterranean have not been without controversy, however. In order to effectively excavate, the Jewish state has cooperated with Greek Cyprus in the region and has therefore further deteriorated its relationship with Turkey. The Israeli-Turkish relationship has eroded dramatically in recent years and has resulted in Israel's loss of a key regional ally and emerging global player. …

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