The discovery of huge reserves of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean will likely give birth to new alliances in the region, possibly even leading regional powers to "bury old differences and develop unprecedented security, economic and strategic cooperation," according to Amr Emam, writing in The Arab Weekly.
The new regional natural gas players — Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus — are working to develop secure systems to deliver natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, making the continent less dependent on gas from Russia, the experts said.
“New finds in the region make cooperation among the new gas producers essential for delivering this gas to important markets, including Europe,” Hossam Farahat, an oil and gas analyst, told The Arab Weekly. “What makes this cooperation more possible is that most of the fields found in the region are so close to each other.”
The idea that Israel, Cyprus and Turkey would provide gas for Europe has been discussed for some time, and as reported by Arutz Sheva at the time, US Vice President Joe Biden remarked upon it in 2014. Egypt, however, was a natural gas importer, not an exporter, until recently.
This changed in August 2015, with the discovery of a huge natural gas field covering 100 sq. km off Egypt's coast. The field reportedly has potential reserves of approximately 30 trillion cubic feet of lean gas, which amount to almost 40% of Egypt's confirmed natural gas reserves. Cairo said that the gas would be used to satisfy local demand, but international energy research centers expect Egypt’s natural gas production to exceed local consumption by 2020.
In addition, economists say Egypt’s need for foreign currency may force it to speed up the export of its natural gas, to a point earlier than 2020, according to Emam, who wrote: "This opens the prospect for creating alliances in the Mediterranean region, where rising gas powers can cooperate to deliver gas to Europe."
Talks with Tsipras, A-Sisi
This idea was reportedly included in talks between European Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action Miguel Arias Canete and Claudio Descalzi, CEO of the Italian firm that discovered the Egyptian gas field, when they met in September 2015.
After the meeting, it was said that the new discovery off Egypt’s coast, along with recent gas discoveries off the shores of Israel and Cyprus, would make it possible for an eastern Mediterranean gas hub "to contribute significantly" to Europe's energy needs.
The same topic was reportedly high in the agenda for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah a-Sisi and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during their meeting in Athens in early December. Tsipras had reportedly held similar discussions in Tel Aviv a few days earlier.
Oil and gas experts say Egypt and Israel may build a pipeline from the port of Ashkelon to western Egypt, where there are two giant gas-processing facilities on the Mediterranean coast. There the gas would be transformed to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and shipped by tanker to Europe.
Turkey, which depends on Russia for a sizeable portion of its oil and gas needs, "may find itself obliged to bury its differences with Tel Aviv and Cairo — and possibly Greece — to make up for Russian gas," in case its relations with Moscow continue to deteriorate, as they have of late.
Political science Professor Tarek Fahmi told Emam the presence of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel will make their cooperation in the regards to natural gas easy. Egypt is highly wary of Turkey, however, because of Turkish leader Erdogan's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a-Sisi's nemesis.
“But I really doubt that Turkey will be part of this cooperation with Egypt, at least in the foreseeable future,” Fahmi said.