ATHENS – The United States is very supportive of plans to develop gas reserves in the East Mediterranean and export them to Europe, lessening the bloc’s reliance to Russia, a leading Israeli energy expert told New Europe in Athens.

“The US has been very supportive and they certainly want to counteract Russian gas to Europe so what the US wants, they want to have American gas to Europe and want to have other sources of gas to Europe, including East Mediterranean gas to Europe,” Gina Cohen, consultant to the Natural Gas Industry in Israel, said in an interview on the sidelines of an Institute of Energy for Southeast Europe (IENE) conference in Athens on March 5 on the Geopolitics of Energy Transition.

Reuters quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying on March 6 that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel imminently to help with its plan for exporting natural gas to Europe with Cypriot and Greek partners.

Cohen told New Europe that Washington wants to see cooperation between the Eastern Mediterranean countries strengthened. “You have Cyprus and Greece and Israel and Jordan and Egypt – so they (the US) want these countries to cooperate together and they would like the gas to go to Europe definitely. So they have all the interests: it’s American companies involved, it’s getting all these allies together and getting gas to Europe,” Cohen said in Athens, adding: “The Americans are very supportive of East Med Gas to Europe whether it is via the East Mediterranean pipeline or LNG from Egypt or Cyprus.”

Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Italy have been discussing the EastMed natural gas pipeline project that would bring gas from Israeli and Cypriot gas fields to Greece and onto Italy and are expected to sign an intergovernmental agreement soon but Cohen warned, “This pipeline project is very complicated technically and commercially.”

]According to the Israeli expert, the first phase of development of Leviathan is not supposed to be part of the EastMed pipeline. “Leviathan Phase 1A is going to go to the Israeli market, 3 bcm (billion cubic metres) a year to Jordan and 3.5 bcm to Egypt so there is no gas left in Phase 1 for any great exports. In order to do Phase 1B that can be developed for another 9 bcm a year and that 9 bcm could go either to Egypt or it could go to Turkey or it can be put to an LNG (liquefied natural gas) facility or it could be put into the EastMed pipeline, in any one of those projects,” Cohen explained.

Turning to the announcement by US energy giant Exxon Mobil on February 28 that it has made the world’s third-biggest natural gas discovery in two years off the coast of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean at the Glaucus-1 well, Cohen said that while it’s not necessarily a game changer for exports, it’s a game changer because it renews the interest in the area and involves one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world. “It renews the interest in Lebanon, in Cyprus, in Israel and in Egypt. It shows that the whole basin is gas-prone and that is good. If it had been another failed well, then it would have sort of put a dampening to further exploration. Probably companies will continue to do drilling so it’s a game changer in terms of drilling,” Cohen said, adding: “On exports it’s not yet a game changer because it’s going to take at least another year or two to know if there is enough gas in Cyprus to do a stand-alone greenfield LNG facility.”

Indeed, Cohen said that the Exxon discovery offshore Cyprus renews interest in constructing an LNG facility on the Mediterranean island. “Now that Exxon has discovered gas, what they want to do is build an LNG facility in Cyprus. I don’t think Exxon is interested in building a pipeline all the way to Europe. They prefer to do LNG and they can bring the LNG to their clients around the world,” Cohen said, concluding: “Of course, someone like Pompeo is very supportive of Israel in any case and that’s a plus.”

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