A gas field offshore Gaza with more than a trillion cubic feet in reserves could become a future revenue stream for the Palestinian economy.
There have been suggestions that this gas is the reason for the war between Israel and Hamas, with the Israeli government eyeing control of the Gaza Marine field. Still, the U.S. has now signaled the gas belongs to the Palestinian people and is theirs to exploit. For that to happen, however, peace must be restored.
During a recent visit to Israel, President Biden's energy security advisor Amos Hochstein said that the Gaza Marine field could go a long way towards helping the Palestinian economy grow.
In an interview with The National, Hochstein noted that the potential of the field should not be overestimated; however, he added that "it can absolutely be a revenue stream for a Palestinian government, and to ensure there is an independent energy system for Palestine."
The Gaza Marine field was discovered in 2000 by British Gas, which had signed a 25-year exploration deal with the Palestinian Authority in 1999 under the Oslo II Accord that gave Palestinians maritime jurisdiction over waters extending 20 miles from the coast.
Israel's government at the time signed off on the drilling, and British Gas drilled two wells, tapping an estimated 1.4 trillion cu ft of gas. However, conflict, economic troubles, and political disputes interfered with exploration in the years that followed. Related: European Utility Giant Turns More Selective On Renewables Spending
Earlier this year, the Netanyahu government preliminarily approved the renewal of exploration work at the Gaza Marine field.
"In the framework of the existing efforts between the State of Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), with emphasis on Palestinian economic development and maintaining security stability in the region, it has been decided to develop the Gaza Marine gas field off the coast of Gaza," the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said in a statement in June.
The National asked Hochstein whether Israel would allow Palestinians to exploit their gas reserves, to which the official replied: "I am very confident, there is no reason for them not to, it is not theirs [the Israelis], the gas belongs to the Palestinian people."
A 2019 paper by the UN Conference on Trade and Development suggested that there are substantial oil and gas reserves in Palestinian land and waters and that some of the gas discovered in the eastern Mediterranean could belong to the Palestinians.
However, the paper said, "Israel has begun to exploit [the resources] for its own benefit, while these resources may be considered shared resources, whereby the oil and natural gas exist in common pools."
In this context, Hochstein's comments regarding the Gaza Marine field are critical. They essentially demonstrate that the U.S. recognizes Palestinian jurisdiction over at least this field—like Israel, which approved drilling there.
The U.S. official also noted that companies have already expressed interest in the development of Gaza Marine. This is hardly a surprise since the East Mediterranean has become a hot spot for oil and gas, especially gas.
The two giant fields off the coast of Israel—Tamar and Leviathan—have turned the country into a gas exporter that gas-thirsty Europe is eyeing as a potential supplier. Israel recently awarded six exploration licenses to companies, including BP and Eni. The licenses are all for offshore exploration for gas.
"The winning companies have committed to unprecedented investment in natural gas exploration over the next three years, which would hopefully result in the discovery of new natural gas reservoirs," Israel's Energy Minister, Israel Katz, said.
With so much interest in the area, companies may indeed be prepared to develop Palestinian gas resources, with the very grave caveat of if and when the war ends.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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