In the short time since news first broke that the Eastern Mediterranean held enough offshore natural gas to keep the region’s energy need met for decades, the area has become a hot bed of tension thanks to conflicting claims and revenue sharing agreements. Recently, local actors Israel and Cyprus has signaled efforts to move production plans forward, but despite advancements, accessing the region’s potential remains fraught with political and security pitfalls.
Set in waters between Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus, the Levant Basin holds an estimated 120 trillion cubic feet in accessible natural gas to those who can access it.
However, its deep set placement and differing geological challenges have set limitations on just who can take a realistic chance on reaching the reserves from their respective waters. Combined with unclear maritime borders between some regional neighbors and deep political and diplomatic divisions, the limitations have created an often-tense environment for relevant regional actors. Further, foreign firms hoping to take part in exploration efforts that might demand a local partnership have found themselves at odds with both competing countries and collaborators in other parts of the world.
According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, Fadel Gheit, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. told them that, “the world’s largest energy companies like Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Chevron Corp., and Exxon Mobil Corp. will be deterred from investing in Israel because of interests they have in the rest of the Middle East.”
While they hold no official claim to the waters in the Levant Basin, Turkey has recently stepped up exploration efforts of their own, stating that they hold authority over waters to the north of Cyprus. Further, Greece has stepped into the discussion with offers to act as a transport hub for natural gas bound for the European market.
On the national level, uncertainty about how best to move forward could also spell further delays, including how best to split earnings across the many political factions in Lebanon and how to address growing environmental concerns in Israel. The latter concern has strengthened the argument for partnering with Cyrus to host Israel’s LNG facilities.
None of these concerns appear to have immediate solutions, though few seem to be dampening enthusiasm for the Eastern Mediterranean’s true natural gas potential.