Israel and several EU nations have pledged to move forward with a Mediterranean gas project, aiming to pump natural gas from Israel to Europe through the longest undersea pipeline ever built.
The planned pipeline - stretching about 2,000 kilometers (1,248 miles) on the bed of the Mediterranean Sea - aims to link gas fields off the coasts of Israel and Cyprus with Greece and possibly Italy, at a cost of up to 6 billion euros ($6.4 billion).
After a meeting in Tel Aviv on Monday between energy ministers from Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, European Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete told reporters he believed the project would "meet all relevant requirements" to make a financial commitment possible.
Canete also noted that Cyprus and Israel were "very reliable" suppliers, and that their gas reserves could make a valuable contribution to the EU's strategy to "diversify sources, routes and suppliers."
Canete admitted it would help limit reliance on the Nord Stream pipeline via Russia, which he said "adds nothing to the security of supply."
Israel has discovered more than 900 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas offshore, with some studies pointing to another 2,200 bcm waiting to be tapped. Along with the European market, it is exploring options to export to Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.
Cyprus's 'Aphrodite' natural gas field holds an additional 128 bcm of proven reserves, and further exploration is expected to find much more gas in Cypriot waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the pipeline was going to be the "longest and deepest sub-sea gas pipeline in the world." Completion of the project has been provisionally scheduled for 2025, "but we will try to speed up and to shorten the timetable," he said.
Elio Ruggeri, chief executive of IGI Poseidon - the project owners - said a feasibility study has been completed and the next few years would focus on "proper development activities," with a final investment decision expected by 2020. IGI Poseidon is a joint venture between Greece's DEPA and Italian energy group Edison.
"Our estimate today is for the pipeline to cost 5 billion euros to [reach] the Greek system and 6 billion euros to the Italian system," Ruggeri said.
However, in view of falling gas prices in recent years, Ruggeri admitted that the pipeline's financial feasibility was based on expectations they would rise again.
Amit Mor, head of the Israeli consultancy EcoEnergy, said the ministers' commitment wouldn't mean a guarantee for the project to become reality. "At this stage, this is still a pipe dream. A depth of three kilometers would be unprecedented," he added, saying high infrastructure costs would make it "very challenging" to rival Russian gas prices.
The energy ministers said they would next meet in Cyprus in six months' time to further advance the project.
uhe/nz (Reuters, AFP)