Two of the world's largest deposits of natural gas sit off the shores of Israel. Together, the deposits hold enough natural gas to meet the country's energy needs well into the next century, provided it can be extracted economically.


According to a report this week from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Israel has at least 760 billion cubic meters of natural gas waiting to be exploited. That's enough to meet the country's energy demands at current consumption rates for 150 years. Based on today's prices, that natural gas would be worth about $240 billion.


Israel's Ministry of Energy is currently preparing a blueprint for covering how the natural gas fields under the Mediterranean Sea will be developed. One of the biggest questions facing the country is how much, if any, of the natural gas will be exported. Proponents say that allowing exports is the best way to make tapping the fields economically feasible. Opponents say that building the plants necessary to liquefy the natural gas before it can be exported would take up too much land and create possible environmental risks.


Current regulatory rules could also prevent the natural gas from being tapped quickly. Israel currently only allows natural gas imports at the government's discretion. Foreign investors and companies that would likely be the ones to tap the fields, say this makes operating in the country too uncertain.


Some companies have also expressed fear that floating liquid natural gas units like the one Israel Natural Gas Lines started building a few weeks ago, would be tempting and vulnerable targets for terrorist attack. "Protecting all the activities of an LNG infrastructure will be an extremely expensive undertaking, and if a floating LNG platform worth billions of dollars is set up, it will likely be the most vulnerable target," retired Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland told Bloomberg.


There's precedent for these worries. Last month, a pipeline carrying natural gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan was attacked and sabotaged. The resulting explosion could be heard nearly 20 miles away. But the pipeline itself was not in use at the time because gas exports had ceased after a previous attack in April.


Tapping its own natural gas reserves could be critical for Israel's energy independence. The country has faced an energy shortage and rolling blackouts because of constant attacks on the pipeline from Egypt.


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