On Jan. 14, 2019, a group of countries met in Cairo. The buzzing city had hosted many international events in the past, but this one had a special twist. For the first time ever, the Cypriot, Egyptian, Greek, Israeli, Italian, Jordanian and Palestinian Ministers of Energy met to discuss the establishment of the East Med Gas Forum, a platform for energy collaboration and partnership that could eventually take the form of an international organization.
But what caused this special meeting in the first place? After all, such a gathering in the Eastern Mediterranean, where high tensions and religious, political and national rivalries were the norm, would have been unthinkable a mere few years ago. And yet, quietly but surely, the countries have been utilizing energy diplomacy to align interests and foster long-lasting relations with each other, essential elements for the much sought-after regional stability and peace.
Their goal: to create a regional gas market, ensure supply and demand, optimize resource development, cut infrastructure costs, offer competitive prices and improve trade relations.
Discoveries of natural gas are not uncommon in the Eastern Mediterranean basin. As a matter of fact, there have been plenty over the past few decades, albeit confined close to the Nile Delta. The "Tamar" discovery offshore Israel in 2009 changed the scene and initiated the emergence of what some geologists call the Nile Delta Cone, a vast area extending northeast and northwest of the river's banks. And it appears the Nile has been pretty busy over the past few million years.
A number of world gas discoveries offshore Cyprus, Egypt and Israel have propelled the Eastern Mediterranean into the global energy stage. In the meantime, other countries in the region, such as Greece and Lebanon, are lining up with their own exploration plans.
Unsurprisingly, these developments have increased the stakes for everyone involved. To put the numbers into perspective, since 2009 East Med discoveries amount to around 2,100 billion cubic meters of natural gas, including the latest big find offshore Cyprus, at Glaucus-1 well, announced a few days ago by ExxonMobil. By comparison, EU consumption in 2017 — the region's closest major gas market — was around 410 billion cubic meters.
Naturally, most of the gas discovered so far has gone toward domestic or regional consumption. Even so, around a quarter of these discoveries, primarily in Cyprus and Israel, are earmarked for exports.
Couple that with the extensive exploration work currently under way, the increasing attractiveness of natural gas as a bridge-fuel toward a renewables future and the reduction in European indigenous production, and it's easy to see why the Eastern Mediterranean is well positioned to reap the rewards of the "Gas Renaissance," the name given to a panel discussion dedicated to the region at CERAWeek 2019 by IHS Markit this week.