It is sometimes said that Israel is famously low on natural resources and that the country’s economic stability is largely due to its advanced high-tech sector, link. But in recent years things have changed with the discovery of very significant oil and gas reserves.
In 2010 Israel discovered at least 16 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, link. Two offshore gas fields, the Leviathan and the Tamar (the large grey areas in Fig.1), hold the vast majority of Israel’s gas reserves, with more than enough to feed domestic demand, bring down Israel’s electricity costs and still have enough gas for export! The Leviathan could provide $230 billion in gross domestic product to Israel over the life of its exports and more than 20 years of domestic supply, link.
Besides gas, the US Geological Survey estimates that the Levant Basin also has some 1.7 million barrels of recoverable oil, link. As of 2014, Israel’s estimated proved reserves of oil were 11.5 million barrels, link.
But much larger oil deposits have been identified in the Shfela (south-central Israel). In fact, Israel also has one of the world’s largest deposits of shale oil, with a potential of some 250 billion barrels in the Shfela basin, link, link. It is claimed that this represents the world’s third-largest quantity of oil shale behind the US and China.
Oil in the Golan Heights: Recent drilling has found thick oil strata in the Southern Golan Heights north-east of the Sea of Galilee, link. The oil strata thickness is ten times the normal world strata thickness, implying a potential production of billions of barrels. This could easily provide all Israel’s oil needs. Compared to gas finds, which are well off shore, the oil find is relatively close.
Israel finds oil in the Southern Golan Heights. Image: ProCon.org
Political Problems over Gas and Oil
Ever since the Leviathan discovery, Israel has faced serious regulatory and political challenges, link. Amongst others, Lebanon has challenged Israel’s right to the reserves, and the Israel-Lebanon maritime border in the Levant Basin is disputed. This border is divided into two: a stretch of 12 nautical miles off the coast, with each country claiming full sovereignty of one side, and an additional stretch of more than 100 miles called the “exclusive economic zone” or “economic waters” (see map).
But despite border disputes, it is claimed about 45% of the Levant Basin still falls within Israel’s land and economic waters, link.
There are similar political problems over oil discoveries in the Golan Heights. Israel claims the oil and ignores claims that it legally belongs to Syria, link.
Dead Sea Minerals
Following thousands of years of evaporation, the Dead Sea now contains some 45,000 million tons of salts rich in minerals, link. This makes the Dead Sea the largest concentration of minerals in Israel. Israel’s mining sector extracts magnesium, bromides, phosphates, potassium, calcium and chlorides of sodium, and much of this is extracted from the Dead Sea.