Israel and the Greek Cypriot administration agreed to increase their cooperation in the field of energy during an official visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the eastern Mediterranean island on Tuesday.
The Greek Cypriot administration and Israel have been involved in a joint endeavour to explore and exploit natural gas reserves located in underneath the seabed of the eastern Mediterranean’s Levant basin.
The Aphrodite offshore gas field was discovered late 2011 with some estimates predicting a capacity of 9 trillion cubic feet before this figure was later revised down to 4.54 trillion cubic feet. The majority of the reservoir is located in Block 12 of the Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with a portion of it inside the Israeli EEZ.
Israeli gas firm Delek recently increased its share in the Aphrodite gas field from 19.9 percent to 49.9 percent, after purchasing 30 percent from the field’s co-operator, the Texas-based Noble Energy, for $155 million.
Speaking to the press after their meeting in southern Nicosia, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said increased cooperation with the Greek Cypriot administration in energy issues will help in the extraction and marketing of energy reserves in the region.
“We think that by cooperating with each other we can take it out more easily, we can market it better, to the betterment of both our societies," he said, adding that the two governments were eyeing opportunities to collaborate, without elaborating further.
Netanyahu, who arrived at Larnaca airport at 10:30am local time (0700 GMT) in his first trip abroad since being re-elected as Israeli prime minister in March, did however say Israel would be exploring ways to cooperate with the Greek Cypriots in matters of security in the region.
The Israeli prime minister’s comments came a month after a duel Canadian-Lebanese citizen with alleged links to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was arrested in Cyprus after being found to be in possession of 8.2 tonnes of potential bomb-making ammonium nitrate. It is believed the suspect was planning to target Israeli tourists on the island.
Meanwhile, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades told reporters he and the Israeli prime minister had agreed the "exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbon assets is a sovereign right that is instrumental in the wider regional context and as part of a reciprocally beneficial relationship."
Tuesday’s meeting was a continuation of talks to increase energy cooperation in the region, following up on the Greek Cypriot leader’s visit to Jerusalem just six weeks ago, where he met with Israeli energy giant Delek Group owner Yitzhak Tshuva to discuss the development of the Aphrodite gas field.
During their meeting, Anastasiades and Tshuva reportedly discussed the possibility of building an independent floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) unit in the area and the merging pipelines from Israeli and Cypriot gas reserves to export gas in the eastern Mediterranean to Egypt.
According to Cyprus Mail, Anastasiades additionally agreed with I Netanyahu to instruct Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Giorgos Lakkotrypis to agree terms on a unitisation deal to regulate the exploitation of gas located along the shared sea-borders of their EEZs, where the Aphrodite field is located.
The two leaders also discussed relations between the EU and Israel as well as developments in the Middle East.
European Council President Donald Tusk is due to visit the island of Cyprus on Sept. 8 before continuing on to the Middle East, starting with a visit to Israel on Sept. 9 and then Palestine on Sept. 10. Tusk is then expected to move on to Egypt.
According to the In-Cyprus news website, Anastasiades may accompany Tusk during his tour.
Earlier this year, the Greek Cypriot administration and Egypt signed a Memorandum of Understanding to outline the technical details of an undersea pipeline in order to supply the BG Group-operated network in Egypt’s Idku or Damietta with gas imports by early 2018 from the Aphrodite gas field.
The discovery of the reserves in the region have also raised hopes in Europe of an alternative gas source, as the continent continues its efforts to diversify its supply away from Russian gas.
Feasibility studies for a 1,200 km-long underwater pipeline from Cyprus to Greece are ongoing, but a number of experts have dismissed the idea due to the 2,000-metre depths of the sea along the proposed route as well as the high seismic activity in the region.
Plans for a possible Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant have been put on hold as the amount of gas found so far does not economically justify its construction.
Greek Cypriot Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis told the Turkish daily Milliyet in a report published in May that natural gas could go to the European market through Turkey if there is a solution to the island’s 41-year dispute with the Turkish Cypriots.
Joint power grids
Israeli and Greek Cypriot officials present at the meetings in Israel in June also discussed plans to connect the power grids of Cyprus, Israel and Greece via the world’s longest bi-directional subsea cable.
With construction due to begin in 2019, the 4-billion-euro EuroAsia Interconnector joint project by companies DEH Quantum Energy and Israel Electric Corporation Ltd. (IEC) will allow electricity to reach remote Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
The project, which is due to be completed by 2022 within the framework of a European Project of Common Interest (PCI), will see a 400 kV DC underwater electric cable connect transmission networks in Israel, Greece and the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
The cable will have a capacity of 2000 MW and will cover a total distance of around 1,518 kilometres, running from Hadera, Israel, to Athens, Greece, through Vassilikos in southern Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.