A New Energy Power That Israel Has Become: Pre-Requisites

флаг Израиля
Фото © Ricardo Tulio Gandelman

The US-based Noble Energy has started gas export deliveries to Egypt from Leviathan, an Israeli offshore natural gas field located in the Mediterranean Sea. Its recoverable oil reserves, as estimated by the US Geological Survey, constitute to 3.5 trillion cubic metres. This amount is more than enough to satisfy domestic needs in the foreseeable future and is likely to guarantee large-scale supplies of natural gas to the neighbouring countries. The data provided is supported by the implications deriving from this article.

According to the agreements, Egypt will be provided with 85 billion cubic metres of gas in the next 15 years. This figure is not too high - for instance, the annual capacity of the Nord Stream is 55 billion metres. The plans of Israel are nonetheless huge: they are going to build the world's longest offshore pipeline, extending it to Europe and thus creating competition for the Russian Gazprom.

Based on the data from various sources, the estimated annual output of EastMed will amount to between 10 and 20 billion cubic metres. Pipeline construction has not started yet, but a feasibility study has been already conducted, as well as an intergovernmental agreement with Cyprus and Greece has been signed. This should ensure a smooth transit of gas to Italy, following with Central and Western Europe.

Yossi Abu, CEO of Delek Drilling, co-developer of Leviathan reservoir, stated the following after a test run held on the New Year's Eve, "For the first time in the history of Israel, we have become an energy superpower that is able to meet its own needs and at the same time deliver natural gas to our regional neighbours".

Фото © Deror Avi

In the picture: Leviathan gas field

If taking into account the fact that a huge oil field has been discovered at the Golan Heights, with its estimated reserves exceeding several billion tons, Mr Abu does not seem to exaggerate at all. However, there is a number of obstacles that may prevent Israel from becoming a full-fledged player on the global fossil fuels market. One of them is the status of the Golan that is internationally recognised as Syrian territory occupied by Israel. There are other barriers as well. Lebanon claims to own the part of the gas-bearing shelf; in fact, unambiguous maritime borders between the two states do not exist. Turkey does not approve the pipeline construction, as it supposedly ‘ignores the rights of Turkish Cypriots’. EastMed development requires significant investments, and at this stage of the project there are no firm agreements defining how much funds is to be allocated by each of co-partners. Regardless, none of the obstacles is that strong that it could stop Israel from executing its ambitious plans, also beneficial to Europe and America.

The most important question is, however, where are these considerable hydrocarbon reserves coming from. Ten years ago, there was no evidence of them, and Israel was generally perceived as a country being fully dependent on energy imports.

As Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of Saint-Petersburg Mining University, explains "At the beginning of the XXI century, the Ural–African transcontinental oil and gas belt (UATB) was identified based on analysis of the geological and geophysical features of the world’s largest oil and gas provinces. The UATB is a planetary structure hosting unique hydrocarbon concentrations, which extends from the Barents and Kara Seas to southeast Africa, reaching the west coast of Madagascar. A number of major oil and gas basins are located there including the Western Siberian, Timan–Pechora, Volga–Ural, and Caspian basins. These basins form the northern segment of the Ural–African transcontinental oil and gas belt, whilst deposits of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran lie within its central part".

Урало-Африканский пояс
© Общественное достояние

As per Prof Litvinenko, no large oil deposits had been discovered in Russia for more than 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The last discovery from the Soviet-era was that of the Vankor oil field, with recoverable reserves exceeding 500 million tons. Finally, in 2013–2014, two new oil fields were found: the Pobeda field in the Kara Sea containing at least 500 billion cubic metres of gas and 130 million tons of oil, and the Velikoe oil field in the Astrakhan region, with its estimated reserves reaching 90 billion cubic metres of gas and 300 million tons of oil. Both deposits are in the Ural–African transcontinental oil and gas belt.

That said, Russian companies do not stop searching for new hydrocarbon deposits within UATB’s borders, this way increasing exploration efficiency. One example is Gazprom that last year announced the discovery of two new natural gas fields on the Yamal shelf. Their total reserves are estimated to 500 billion cubic metres, which approximately equals the annual production output of the Russian company. Of the two deposits, the larger one was named after Vasily Dinkov who was the Minister of the Gas Industry during 1981-1985 and the Minster of the Petroleum Industry of the USSR during 1985-1989.

The southern segment of the UATB has been also actively explored. Exploration works started there in the 1980s, but the first positive result was obtained by Heritage Oil that produced its first oil in 2002 when large oil reserves were discovered in the basins of the western branch of the East African Rift System (EARS). EARS is an active continental rift zone running from the Red Sea and terminating in Mozambique, which was formed as a result of the Arabian Plate and the African Plate pulling away from one another.

Фото © Bernard DUPONT

Since 2002, several dozens new oil fields have been discovered to the east of Lake Albert, in Uganda, with estimated reserves of more than four billion barrels (600 million tons). To compare: in 2019, total oil production in Russia amounted to 560 million tons.

According to Vladimir Litvinenko, "Hydrocarbon deposits identified within the East African rift system - that is a southern part of the Ural-African transcontinental oil and gas belt - can be seen as an embryonic stage in formation of oil–gas accumulations. These discoveries are characterised by the continuous flow of hydrocarbons and its short-term residence in local traps, which makes finding major hydrocarbon deposits there unlikely. The potential for large deposits is more likely where large accumulations of hydrocarbons are overlapped by later sedimentary strata, a situation seen offshore of East Africa".

Analysis of the structure of the Ural–African transcontinental oil and gas belt shows that the total resource endowment of the large hydrocarbon deposits there exceeds 50 % of the known world reserves. Therefore, numerous new deposits can be discovered within its borders, and such states as Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and even war-torn Somalia may as well join the pool of major fossil fuel exporters if market conditions are favourable.