The last week’s confirmation of the largest underwater discovery of natural gas in a decade off Israeli shores has made many in the Jewish state dizzy with talk of becoming a global energy power possessing reserves worth tens of billions of dollars.

Despite major export hurdles and the fact that the offshore fields represent less than 1 percent of worldwide gas reserves, the finds are being hailed as a crucial pillar for the local economy with the potential to shift the geopolitical balance relative to oil-rich Middle Eastern neighbours like Saudi Arabia.

Last Wednesday, the exploration venture between Houston-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Energy Systems Ltd., announced that its Leviathan underwater field contained some 18 trillion cubic feet of gas. Less than two years ago, the partners found 8 trillion cubic feet of gas in the nearby oil field of Tamar.

Energy experts say the natural gas from Leviathan and Tamar is enough to supply Israel’s domestic market for decades, eliminating a dependence on foreign energy sources.

“For most of Israel’s history it has potentially been an energy-starved country. These discoveries are really manna from heaven. Having its own supply of natural gas will give Israel long-term energy security,’’ says Brenda Shaffer, a professor of political science at Haifa University who focuses on energy politics.

Over the past decade, Israel began transitioning from coal- to gas-powered electricity power plants – a shift that will continue through 2020. The discovery of Leviathan and Tamar will reduce its dependence on neighbouring Egypt as a supplier. Having a large supply of natural gas just off its shores will lower energy prices for industrial and household consumers.

Still, Ms. Shaffer says she doesn’t consider the find “an international game changer.”
The dimensions of the gas fields are modest on an international scale: reserves in neighboring Egypt and in Nigeria are four and 10 times bigger, respectively.