For years, there was a joke in Israel: indications of oil are everywhere, but when anyone goes looking for it, there’s none to be found.
But with the discovery of two massive natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the country has found itself with more energy resources than it has expertise to develop them, said Meir Shlomo, Israel’s consul general to the Southwest.
Until recently, any efforts to find oil and gas in Israel produced nothing but frustration, Shlomo said in an interview with The Oklahoman. While energy companies occasionally found small oil and gas deposits on land, the country had never had a large-scale discovery, Shlomo said.
“We’ve been searching for oil forever, but we never found anything,” he said.
But when the country began exploring offshore, it found two large natural gas fields — first the Tamar gas field in 2009, and then the Leviathan gas field in 2010. Since those discoveries, Israel has been able to supply its own domestic energy consumption, Shlomo said, and recently signed a contract allowing it to export natural gas to Jordan.
Based in Houston, Shlomo represents Israel in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. He was in Oklahoma this week to meet with energy industry leaders and to attend a performance Thursday in Edmond by the Haifa Symphony Orchestra of Israel.
During the visit, Shlomo met with officials from several energy companies, including Continental, Devon and ONEOK. Israel hopes to attract energy companies from the United States and elsewhere to do business there, Shlomo said. Israeli officials think there’s more gas to be found in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, he said.
“The opportunity is certainly there,” he said.
Some of the gas found in the Leviathan field will be exported to Europe and Asia, Shlomo said. The country is situated between those two markets, making exporting more convenient, he said.
The country also is politically stable and has legislation in place to handle its new energy industry, meaning energy companies interested in doing business there can calculate what their expenditures would be and get an idea of what kind of profit margins to expect.
“It’s really a sweet deal, both for us and for the companies that will come,” Shlomo said. “I really hope to see one of those companies in Israel — at least one, if not more.”
On other issues, Shlomo said:
•Israeli officials are concerned about a preliminary agreement six world powers reached with Iran over the Iranian nuclear program. The agreement halts some of Iran’s nuclear operations in exchange for easing sanctions against the country.
The agreement curbs Iran’s uranium enrichment program, but doesn’t stop it altogether. Shlomo said the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium could mean Iran could continue developing a nuclear weapon. Iranian officials have denied trying to produce nuclear weapons.
•Shlomo said he thinks Palestinians suffer from a “deficit of leadership” in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. He doubts the Palestinian leadership is serious about negotiating a truce, and he credited U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with convincing them to return to the talks.
Israel has long supported a so-called two-state solution, granting Palestinians an independent nation separate from Israel. Although reaching such a solution will be difficult, Shlomo said it could allow Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace.
“All we want to do is live and let live,” he said.