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Cursed Resource?
Will Israel Waste Its Energy Potential?

The Eastern Mediterranean is quickly becoming an energy hotspot with global importance, and Israel lies smack in the center of the fossil-fueled boom. Massive reserves of natural gas lie trapped underneath rock and water off the coast of Israel. Two of the biggest fields—the Tamar and Leviathan—promise Israel things that even a decade ago could have only existed in dreams: a significant, steady supply of domestic power, and a role as an energy exporter.

Of course, realizing this potential won’t be as easy as Jed Clampett made it seem. But, as Arthur Herman writes for Commentary, the bonanza has already sparked a range of fierce debates. The green opposition, predictably, flared up:

The sudden oil and gas explosion has set off a predictable blowback from elements of the Israeli public, and the Israeli political class, especially on the left. It’s not just the “not in our back yard” mentality and fears of burgeoning industrial sites where there used to be pristine beaches, or the specter of historic sites in the Holy Land destroyed in a reckless quest for oil (Elah Valley is where the Bible tells us David fought Goliath). It has also triggered a furious campaign from environmentalists, who’ve gone after the oil-shale project with the same rage and determination as opponents of fracking in [the US].

Also contentious was the issue of what should be done with the hydrocarbons once extracted:

In 2013, the export of natural gas became a fierce political issue. Matters came to head in June, when a select committee mandated by the government to study the issue and headed by Shaul Tzemach, director general of the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, released its report. The committee recommended exporting up to 53 percent of Israel’s offshore gas while making sure Israel has a reserve to last for 25 years. Even after the Netanyahu cabinet voted to cut that number to 40 percent, it was still too high for the leaders of both the Likud and Labor parties, who denounced the decision as “reckless.”

New sources of oil and gas have a way of bringing plenty of political trouble along with the energy security and economic boon they provide. Herman’s piece, which is worth taking the time to read in full, looks closely at how all three of those phenomena are currently playing out in Israel, before concluding with this:

The ultimate question is, Can the Israelis live with this new bounty? Have they become so accustomed to living in survival mode and being under constant threat that they simply cannot believe their good fortune—and cannot act on the opportunity?

That’s a question for Israelis to answer, but as vexing as the various stakeholder concerns and arguments over how best to use new oil and gas may be, surely it’s preferable to worrying about energy scarcity.

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