An emerging compromise between the government and the natural gas group that discovered Israel’s offshore reservoirs is being discussed by the political-security cabinet Thursday (June 25) just as news is revealed the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is one of the shareholders in Noble Energy.
In a 2013 declaration of assets published on opensecrets.org, Kerry’s shares in Noble Energy totaled an estimated $500,000 to $1 million.
The revelation comes as the cabinet mulls a compromise that would eliminate the need to break up the energy group formed by Noble Energy and Delek, Ltd.
Also on the table is the issue of what will happen with gas agreements Israel has with customers in Egypt if this issue is not sorted out quickly. A regulatory quagmire has stalled the process of setting up a pipeline to supply the gas from Leviathan to the British Gas liquefaction facility at Idku, Egypt.
Last June, the Leviathan partners had signed a letter of intent with BG in a $30 billion deal to supply 105 BCM of gas to the facility for 15 years. One sixth of the reservoir’s gas field would be exported in the deal, which is designed to make its development worthwhile.
In May 2014, the Tamar partners had signed a letter of intent with Spanish company Union Fenosa, which has a gas liquefaction facility in Damietta, Egypt. The Tamar group would supply the facility in Damietta with 70 BCM over 15 years, a deal worth nearly $20 billion. Union Fenosa Fenosa would pay for a gas pipeline to connect the Tamar reservoir to the Egyptian facility.
But Israel’s infamous snarl of political red tape got in the way, and everything came to a halt.
Last December, Israel Antitrust Authority director-general Prof. David Gilo ruled the gas sector must be restructured. Israel’s Antitrust Authority accused the Noble Energy – Delek Ltd. group of forming an illegal monopoly, raising red flags for others who called on the state to nationalize its gas reserves.
As a result of the regulatory quagmire, negotiations with Union Fenosa stalled – and then stopped. A senior company executive told Globes the firm has continued to hold talks with the Tamar group, but said “the situation between us and the Tamar partners is complicated and difficult. The negotiations between us have reached an impasse.”
Since Egypt does not have infinite patience or time to wait for gas to supply its local economy, it is now exploring other options. According to a report by Ernst & Young, it appears likely that Royal Dutch Shell will sell gas to the British Gas liquefaction facility in Idku. Another possible option is the Aphrodite reservoir in Cyprus.
Likewise, Jordan – which also is in process of negotiating a contract to import gas from Israel – has no time to waste in obtaining affordable natural gas for her citizens. She, too, is now seeking other alternatives thanks to Israeli red tape and political games. One possibility under discussion is the Gaza marine reservoir.
If that happens, Israel’s nascent gas export industry will drown.
Last December (2014), Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to help resolve the issue. At the time, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement, “We continue to engage and we support all parties to move forward with the natural gas deal signed between Noble Energy and entities in Jordan and Egypt. We strongly believe that these deals would enhance energy security in the region.”
Since that time, Netanyahu appointed National Economic Council chairman Eugene Kandel to try to reach a compromise solution.
The energy group has been negotiating with the government ever since. The group hopes to continue operating as is, pointing out that unless the companies can make a profit, there will be no reason for them to explore or drill.