Leviathan Gas Discovery Could be The Mother of All Resource Curses

israel fighter jetsToday’s announcement from Noble Energy of its gigantic Leviathan gas find in disputed territory will exacerbate tensions in region

They say that fossil fuel riches become a curse to any country that possess them. Where fossil fuels flow – corruption, reduced democracy and increased inequality follow. It is such a recognized pattern that it has become a cliche: the resource curse. No nation is immune. Even one-time staid and fair-minded Canada has now succumbed to this corruption of democracy, under the pressure from its oil sands provinces.

So when Houston-based Noble Energy today confirmed that its Leviathan gas find under the water off the shore of Israel is easily the largest exploration discovery in its history, with an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – it is not a moment of rejoicing – but one of trepidation.

Leviathan natural gas rig off the coast of Haifa, Israel

Updated in 2019, a picture of the Levithan rig

Not only is the resource curse the kiss of death for one little democracy in the Middle East, but the huge find straddles the borders of neighbors that have never had neighborly relations.

There is an estimated 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the entire Levant Basin Province, according to the USGS. It lies within the offshore territory of Israel, Lebanon, Gaza/Palestinian Authority, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The Leviathan gas field is within the Levant Basin, and it straddles the border of Israel and Lebanon. The disputes between Israel and Lebanon have already begun. The Leviathan field is twice as large as the Tamar gas field, which is 50 miles west of Haifa in 5500 feet of water.

Israel’s Northern Coast Under Threat of Massive Air Pollution

In June, Lebanon warned Israel not to drill in its waters, and Israel claimed in return that it is not drilling in Lebanese waters. But no matter where the drills actually go in, they would both be tapping into the same reservoir. And it really is a case of  “the first in will get to win.”

By July,  Steve LeVine at Foreign Policy Magazine was suggesting that since the Israelis are already set to produce gas, they have a huge head start, and “will be able to suck out most of the gas before anyone else is even able to raise the funds for exploration.”

He noted then that the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields combined could contain more than 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, equivalent to 3.5 billion barrels of oil, or up to 35 years of Israel’s current consumption with enough left over to make the country an exporter. Rosy futures are being predicted by oil companies.

Now that Noble has made its announcement, that estimate looks to be right on the money. With sixteen trillion cubic feet from Leviathan and another eight from Tamar, the total is about 24 trillion cubic feet.

For a region that has never gotten along, the Leviathan gas field could write a whole new chapter in the history of the resource curse.

::Noble Energy Inc

Read more on natural gas in Israel:
Beating the Nationalist Drum and Israel’s Oil Interests
Hezbollah Interferes With Israel’s Mediterranean Energy Business

UN To Mediate A Natural Gas “Standoff” Between Israel and Lebanon Gas Fields Dispute

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15 thoughts on “Leviathan Gas Discovery Could be The Mother of All Resource Curses”

  1. jack says:

    The only curse is the imperialist tendencies of the country of Turkey, and its continued expansion in the region!

    1. I think it might be dreaming of the Ottoman Period. In theory a strong Turkey could be a real boost to the region, insofar as it can work fairly between the east and the west. Bypassing countries over recent spats, despite years and decades of peacebuilding, is really stupid in my eyes.

  2. Ivy Garner says:

    This is great news.

    Now American can stop paying for Israel’s oil to the tune of BILLIONS of dollars per year…and use that money to help its own citizens.

    1. I didn’t know America was paying for Israeli oil. Could you cite your reference? America support Israel in security tech and bilateral trade. It Also supports Jordan with huge sums of USAID, and Egypt too.

  3. Jen says:

    Just because it’s a cliche, doesn’t mean the resource curse is always true: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/12/06/what_resource_curse?page=full

    1. Jen, maybe Israel will prove the curse to be untrue. But I am a big believer in the fact that the Jewish nation’s struggle for survival has been their blessing in looking for alternative energy solutions.

  4. Daniel Adam says:

    Seems like another long middle-east problem is brewing and shall explode soon over this gas discovery and who is going to start the robbery first.

    One who is familiar with the International offshore drilling law and can read a map accordingly. It is clear that most of the area is under Lebanon’s territorial right followed by Cyprus. In reality, Israel claim can be very little and may not be the worth, considering drilling and other charges for commercial level production.

    Might is right shall not work here. It is better the nation of the region unite and use the resources based on what is rightfully theirs,


  5. Scott David Lucas says:

    Blessed is Israel, forevermore. A comment was made on the internet the other day, concerning that Israel should wean it’self from The United States. After all, who shall we put our trust in, our faith in. Yes, The God of Israel, not man. After all, all nations will come against Israel, someday. Amein. PSALM YISRAEL / Scott David Lucas

  6. Elli Davis says:

    I think that some of the people did not understand the full prospect of the article, what I rendered as the most important message in it is not the danger of pollution (I am not saying that it is not a problem,just that it is not the main one), but the situation it brings in to the Middle-east region, Israeli balancing on the brink of the conflict with every single neighbour are shifting large amounts of energy resources, commodity valued the most in the region. This might result in something very immediate to worry about for the civilians in the region.

  7. K. Nockels says:

    Thank-you Susan, For trying to inform the ignorant. You’re right about the trouble this will cause in the region. One more sliver we don’t need to add to the wars for oil we already have going on. It may help lessen some coal use for electric generation but over all just getting it out of the region either by pipe line or tanker as LNG will come with hugh risks.

  8. Tony Center says:

    This is a laugh out loud moment. Israel finds an awesome energy source and “Green” people wince . . . too funny!!!

    I love reading the uneducated postings of these so-called environmentalists. This liberal, anti-human movement is a sick joke.


    Therefore if carbon is bad, so is life. So if you believe in this political poppycock, do us all a favor and take your own life and save the Earth!

    1. When we say carbon, it means fuel derived from carbon sources, which when “burned” emits greenhouse gases CO2. The aim for a country like Israel should be renewables. Period.

    2. Fossil fuels are a danger, both to the planet over the next 100,000 years, and more immediately, to democracies (the Resource Curse). But I don’t see this find as an unmitigated bad, because natural gas actually has under half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal – which it will likely replace for about 70% of Israel’s electricity – as I note in this story:


      It is complicated.

  9. I disagree: given all the hopeful optimism of this gas find, Susan’s analysis offers a breath of fresh air.

    Natural gas is not a clean energy source. It’s better than oil, but still a carbon based resource that pollutes. We have to be a downer about it. That’s our job as Green Prophets. 🙂

    Read our site daily and you’ll see how many positive stories we cover. The latest is about flamingos:


    Karin Kloosterman

  10. Joe says:

    This site never fails to see the dark lining in every silver cloud. Every glass is half empty, and piece of good news is a tragedy. Could you be any more of a downer?

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