Israel hands out offshore oil exploration licences to BP and ENI to strengthen international relations

Silhouette of an oil rig at sunset
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On 29 October, Israel’s energy department announced it had granted two licences for oil exploration. Winners included BP and Italian national oil company ENI. The Israeli energy minister said it showed the industry’s “confidence” in the country.

‘Confidence in Israel’

Israeli financial newspaper Globes said on 30 October that the country’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure had announced the results of two exploration bids. A consortium including BP and Azerbaijan state oil firm SOCAR won licences for an area west of the Karish oil field. Meanwhile, a consortium including ENI won licences for the other region, located southwest of the Leviathan oil field.

Globes reported that the Ministry of Energy had pinned “major hope” on these licences to attract international investment. Moreover, BP was already part of discussions to buy a 50% stake in major Israeli oil and gas group NewMed.

Bidding for the licences closed in July. However, industry analyst Mona Sukkarieh said the announcement of winners has come at a “curious time… amid a raging war”. However, energy minister Israel Katz made it clear that Israel wanted the announcement to show international “confidence” in the country:

Precisely at this time, giant natural gas exploration companies are expressing confidence in Israel’s resilience and want to invest here. The winning companies have committed to unprecedented investments in natural gas exploration already over the next three years, in pursuit of discovering new reserves, thus strengthening Israel’s energy security, strengthening Israel’s international ties, lowering the cost of living and providing energy support to accelerate the transition of the economy to renewable energy.

Oil wars

In June, Israel approved the development of Gaza Marine, the strip of water off the Gazan coast containing an estimated 1tn cubic feet of natural gas. Offshore Technology said the field would produce about $2.4bn in royalties and profits for Palestine during its lifetime. As the website also noted, Gaza Marine is closer to shore than Israel’s existing oil and gas fields, making it cheaper to develop.

Meanwhile, after Europe cut off Russian oil and gas supplies in 2022, Israel signed a deal with the EU to become a keystone supplier. Joseph Dana, a market analyst and journalist, wrote at the time that the plans would “radically transform” Israel’s relationship with the rest of the world over its occupation of Palestine. In particular, Dana highlighted how new Israeli oil and gas prospects could make pro-Palestinian campaigns in Europe effectively “meaningless”.

Read on...

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Since Hamas launched its ground attack on Israel on 7 October, European leaders have nearly uniformly backed Israel’s actions. Israel’s latest offshore licences come as its bombing and invasion of Gaza enters a fourth week and as calls for a cease or a so-called “humanitarian pause” grow. A “curious time” indeed.

Featured image via arbyreed/flickr

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