Egypt started importing natural gas from Israel‘s largest offshore gas field Leviathan on Wednesday in a landmark step toward Cairo’s ambitious plan to become a regional energy hub.
Israeli gas exported to Egypt is intended for domestic consumption and for liquification for export to other markets – a development that will be welcomed by Europe, which is trying to lessen its dependence on natural gas imported from Russia.
In a statement announcing the first transfer, the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources said the step “represents an important development that serves the economic interests for both countries”.
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Isreal’s Delek Group Ltd and Texas-based Nobel Energy Inc – partners in the Leviathan field- are contracted to export 85 billion cubic metres of gas to Egypt over 15 years.
Israeli officials have described it as the most important agreement since the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979.
In 2018, Delek, Nobel and Egyptian East Gas Co signed a deal to buy control of the East Mediterranean Gas Co pipeline connecting southern Israel to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Initially built to export Egyptian gas to Israel, the pipeline sat largely idle for six years due to domestic gas shortages in Egypt and repeated attacks by armed fighters in the Sinai.
The Leviathan field was discovered a decade ago about 120km (75 miles) off Israel’s coast. But its towering production platform was constructed just 10km from the shore, which prompted environmental activists and municipalities in Israel to lobby for building the structure further out at sea.
The activists were concerned about what they called the catastrophic consequences of spreading toxic water and air pollution towards their homes, but they lost their case when the Jerusalem District Court ruled last month that the appellants had not provided sufficient evidence that Leviathan’s emissions could prove dangerous.
Delek, Noble and the Israeli government have insisted that the most stringent safety measures have been put in place, and accused their critics of waging an irresponsible scare campaign.
Meanwhile, the 2015 discovery of Egypt’s Zohr gas field turned Egypt from net importer to exporter in late 2018.
Zohr, which holds an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, has been touted as the largest-ever field in the Mediterranean, and the government is planning on using it to supply gas-hungry Europe.
The European Union, which is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, has encouraged the formation of new delivery routes, including through the eastern Mediterranean Sea.