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Y. Abu Moailek: Good Gas Is Gaza's New Treasure

Good Gas Is Gaza's New Treasure

By Yasser Abu Moailek

Palestinians have generally considered that talk of natural gas or similar minerals being found under the Gaza Strip was only for dreamers. However, a recent discovery of a large field of natural gas has gripped the imaginations of many Gazans.

Among them is Moeen Al Banna who holds a Masters degree in gas and oil engineering. Since graduating in 1992 in Ukraine he worked for five years in the Gulf before returning home to the Gaza Strip.

Banna, who is a clerk in an office in Gaza City doing tasks completely unrelated to his field of study, was jubilant at the chance of doing work that he was qualified to do.

"This is a happy day for me. I now know that I didn't study in vain," he said.

The announcement of the gas find was made last week by Azzam Al Shawwa, head of the Palestinian energy and natural resources authority. He said that gas giant British Gas (BG), which owns drilling rights to large natural gas reserves off the coasts of Gaza, had discovered a large field within the regional waters of the Gaza Strip.

Shawwa said that the gas field, estimated as holding 60 billion cubic meters, would require an investment of $500 million for pipelines and production facilities.

Along with the news came an announcement that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Egyptian government had signed an agreement on June 29 that gave the PA access to Egypt's gas pipeline network to transport and market the Gaza gas.

"The discovered gas field off Gaza, entitled Marine-1, is of top quality, as it contains 99.4 percent of methane and is free of sulfur pollutants that are harmful to the marine life," Shawwa said.

The Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) and the Palestinian Investment Fund will work with the British company, which was given 20-year drilling rights in Gaza, by developing facilities to export the gas to the international market, Shawwa said.

Gazans, like everyone else, are suffering from the increasing prices of fossil fuels, including natural gas, which they use mainly for cooking. Tapping abundant natural gas is expected to be a great boost for the impoverished population. Shawwa said that some gas would be used domestically thereby radically decreasing its price in the Palestinian territories.

Despite the jubilant Palestinian response to the news, some experts remain skeptical of Israel's silence toward the news.

"Where is Israel in all this?" asked Mohammed Hijazi, an economic commentator in Gaza. "Israel is always in the market for natural resources.

"An agreement between Israel Electric [company] and the Egyptian company EMB was under negotiation late in 2004," he said, adding, "There have been reports in the Israeli press that the Russian gas producing company Gazprom is working on a deal to sell Israel 4 million cubic meters of natural gas annually via a pipeline through Turkey. Locking up the much closer Palestinian natural gas production would be a bonanza for Israel."

Indeed, the Israeli government is partner to the PA in a small gas field to the north of the Gaza Strip. Israel has in the past blocked Palestinian gas export and production agreements in an attempt to come out with benefit for itself.

A drilling rig is on the way from Australia and is expected to reach Gaza's coast in September to start exploration to determine the exact quantity and quality of the find.

"Things would be much easier for us [in the PA] once Israelis conclude their disengagement plan from Gaza. We are working on frameworks to organize the distribution of produced gas on the domestic level and for export through Egyptian pipelines," Shawwa said.

"We agreed with the Egyptians to provide Gaza's electricity power plant with natural gas as a source of fuel instead of the expensive fossil fuel. This alone will save us 50 percent of the fuel costs and would definitely mean less electricity fees to be paid by Palestinians," he said.

All these developments have put a smile on the face of engineer Banna as he is about to enter the office of the energy and natural resources authority building in Gaza with CV in hand.

"I will apply for a job straight away. They might need someone with experience to lay out the plans for gas distribution," he said, hopefully.

Ihab Dahman, a taxi driver in Gaza City, also expressed his joy at low gas and electricity bills.

"Less gas and electricity fees? Of course, I'm really happy that we might pay less for the natural gas. I really hope they find oil reserves, too, so I will pay less for gasoline for my car so I can earn a decent living," said Dahman, smirking slightly, before ploughing his cab into the jam of cars in the crowded Gaza City street in search of his next passenger.


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