By Nikolaos Prakas and Elias Hazou
Cyprus and Israel are working on a deal for a pipeline carrying natural gas from both countries to the island, where it will be liquefied for export to Europe and potentially elsewhere, Energy Minister George Papanastasiou said on Monday.
His comments came right after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally announced plans to build a pipeline transporting natural gas from Israeli offshore reserves to a liquefaction facility to be built in Cyprus.
Head of the president’s press office Victoras Papadopoulos confirmed to CyBC that “interest was high” and said Papanastasiou would be travelling to Israel to discuss details of the agreement within the next few days.
He stressed that President Nikos Christodoulides was working “quietly and methodically” to solve the problem of high energy prices.
Nicosia’s goal, he added, is to upgrade the role of the Republic in an effort to wean Europe off Russian gas.
Speaking during the weekend prior to a ministerial council meeting, Netanyahu said: “This is a new energy interconnection in our region, which is sure to lift the Israeli economy to new heights, making Israel an important international energy provider.
“We all know that Europe needs energy. It needs natural gas and our aim is to provide the European market with good quality natural gas at competitive prices,” the Israeli prime minister said, adding that the new energy cooperation plan with Cyprus will greatly strengthen Israel’s position in the international market.
Papanastasiou revealed he would return to Israel for talks with his counterpart there aimed at hammering out a deal for a pipeline transferring natural gas from Israeli gas fields to the island for liquefaction.
The two ministers will also discuss pending issues over Cyprus’ Aphrodite reserve which neighbours Israel’s Yishai gas field.
Papanastasiou had accompanied Christodoulides during his visit to Israel last week.
Responding to a question, the minister said the proposal for an Israel-to-Cyprus pipeline “came from Nicosia.”
He added: “The first stage is to sign an agreement facilitating the construction of the pipeline that would connect the two exclusive economic zones, and we will start from there,” he noted, adding that the project entails the transport and liquefaction of Israeli natural gas in Cyprus and then its export to Europe on ships.
“There is high demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and Europe is the continent that suffers the most,” he said, noting that Asian markets were also potentially in play.
Asked about the timeframe for the project, Papanastasiou said that once the political decision is taken and investors come on board “it would take two-and-a-half years for the liquefaction plant while the pipeline could be constructed in 18 months.”
Asked whether these plans affect the East Med project, Papanastasiou appeared to suggest the East Med was no longer on the table – but put it obliquely.
“Instead of having a pipeline connecting Israel to Europe, this can be done via Cyprus where we will have, let me say, a ‘virtual’ pipeline connecting Cyprus to the rest of Europe, but with liquefied natural gas.”
The mooted East Med pipeline – 1,900-kilometres long – with a $6 billion price tag would have conveyed regional gas directly to Europe. The idea fell out of favour in recent years.
So far, five sizeable gas deposits have been discovered off Cyprus’ southern coastline. Israel has 11 such fields.
“The eastern Mediterranean has enough (gas) deposits. Most are inside Israel’s exclusive economic zone, but Cyprus has sufficient quantities as well for this project to materialise,” Papanastasiou explained.
This plan will be discussed in a workshop on May 29, organised by the ministry in Cyprus with the participation of companies involved in natural gas production and supply.
“These companies are involved in the whole natural gas production chain, from pipeline contractors to LNG plants as well as others who are interested in purchasing the LNG produced in Cyprus,” said the minister.