Israeli Energy Minister Courts Energy Investors

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Michael Reed, Managing Editor

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told members of Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston on Tuesday that his country is close to ushering in an era that will encourage development and investments in its energy sector.

Acknowledging Israel has “created some obstacles and difficulties” for itself concerning development of the massive Tamir (254 Bcm) and Leviathan (535 Bcm) offshore natural gas fields, he said. “I want to pave the way for speedy, rapid development.”

Israel, according to Steinitz, has worked hard in recent months to restructure its restrictive regulatory framework for energy development, implemented following the 2009 discovery of the Tamir.

“Don’t say you can make some profit, but it should be very limited profit,” Steinitz said. “I want a lot of profit for companies.”

Though the energy minister did not provide further details, his tone should come as welcome news to Houston’s Noble Energy, which has seen its work on the two fields stall amid antitrust concerns – a situation that has discouraged other U.S. investors and caused concerns in Israel over the nation’s dream of reaching energy independence.

The muddled regulatory climate in Israel had also placed a cloud over possible gas export deals with Arab neighbors Egypt and Jordan, but Steinitz said he felt an agreement with the former would still come about. This despite Italian company ENI’s announcement that it had discovered the “largest ever” offshore field off the Egyptian coast in the Mediterranean Sea, possibly containing 850 Bcf of natural gas.

“There is already an understanding with Egypt,” Steinitz said. “A few days after the discovery, Egypt said it still wanted to buy Israeli gas.”

He said despite tension with Turkey a gas export deal might also be possible there, adding overall exports to Turkey had increased during the past five years despite “political bitterness.” He did not think Russia would interfere with such an agreement.

Steinitz said the main purpose of his visit to Houston was to encourage companies to invest in Israel. He cited his country’s “very strong, high-tech economy” in doing so, adding cybersecurity has become increasingly important, particularly in the energy sector.

Related: Israel on Cusp of an Energy Revolution, January 2014

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