GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Natural gas off the coast of the Gaza Strip under the Palestinian territorial waters in the eastern Mediterranean sea remains a prime focus of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
While the PA has tried to exploit natural gas in a step to strengthen the Palestinian economy through natural resources, the 10-year Fatah-Hamas division has undoubtedly obstructed these attempts. However, thanks to the Palestinian reconciliation efforts, the PA seems to be taking actions to extract natural gas from one of the gas fields off the coast of the Gaza Strip, known as the Gaza Marine gas field.
The Gaza Marine offshore gas field is located under Palestinian territorial waters about 30-36 kilometers (19-22 miles) off the shores of the Gaza Strip in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, at a water depth of 603 meters (1,978 feet).
The PA is seeking to supply the two power stations in Jenin and Gaza, which operate on natural gas. However, continued Israeli obstacles have led many international gas exploration companies to renounce previous agreements entered into with the PA.
In May, the Anglo-Dutch Shell company notified the PA of its desire to withdraw from an $800 million agreement it had signed with the Palestine Investment Fund. This development comes less than a year after Shell acquired British Gas (BG) on April 8, 2016, and its 55% stake in Gaza Marine.
Two gas fields were discovered in 1998: Gaza Marine and a smaller field known as the Border Field. In 1999, the PA awarded BG the gas concession, and the reserves in the two fields were estimated to be 1.4 trillion cubic feet, enough to cover the gas needs for 15 years in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, based on current consumption rates.
Palestinian media outlets have argued that Israel is blocking all Palestinian efforts to extract gas to keep the Palestinians dependent on Israeli imports.
The government of consensus headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is making major promises in this regard.
During his recent visit to the Gaza Strip, as part of the Palestinian reconciliation efforts between the West Bank-based PA and the Hamas government in Gaza, Hamdallah announced in a meeting on Oct. 4 that the PA reached an agreement with a Greek company a few weeks ago to invest in Gaza Marine. The announcement rekindled the hope of young Palestinians that the PA may advance the Palestinian economy.
Moreover, the PA Council of Ministers asserted in a statement issued Oct. 3 that the development of this field is a turning point and a fundamental factor for restructuring the Palestinian energy sector and imposing national sovereignty over the development and exploitation of Palestinian natural resources.
Also on Oct. 3, Al-Resalah newspaper indicated that the head of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA) in the Gaza Strip, Zafer Melhem, asserted that the Palestinian government is working on a plan to develop the Gaza Marine field.
ِAccording to Al-Resalah, Melhem indicated that PENRA is intensifying its discussions to develop the field to start the extraction of natural gas and is also working with the Palestinian Investment Fund and the government to complete the financial procedures and remove obstacles that prevent the start of gas extraction from the shores of Gaza. He also expected the extracted gas to be used in producing electricity in the two power stations in Jenin and Gaza, which he said will be ready to operate by 2020.
Maher Tabbaa, the director of public relations and media at the Gaza Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Al-Monitor, “Natural gas is one of the most important resources that Palestinians need, whether in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. This is especially true in light of the gas shortage and the Israeli control of gas quantities allowed into the Gaza Strip, causing an acute gas shortage at times.”
He added, “Gas exploration in Gaza Marine field — stalled since 1999 — is one of the most important strategic issues for Palestine. Gas exploration will solve the power crisis crippling the besieged enclave for many years now. It will also trigger a great economic boom, provide employment opportunities for a large sector of unemployed youth and provide energy sources.”
Tabbaa pointed out that after the Palestinian reconciliation is completed, gas exploration will be one of the most important issues to be subject to a Palestinian consensus. “The Palestinian division has impeded exploration for years, but in light of the current reconciliation efforts, the government seems determined to explore the Gaza Marine field to overcome several economic crises, especially in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Palestine had previously claimed its rights to natural resources when President Mahmoud Abbas signed on Dec. 31, 2014, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea giving Palestinians their right to exercise their authority over their territorial waters as well as the right to explore and extract natural resources.
Meanwhile, Palestinians wait for the UN convention to actually be enforced on the ground and for the extraction of gas to begin.