Jordan tensions boil over with Israeli gas deal
Amman - Jordanian government-owned National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) has signed a 15-year, $10 billion agreement with Noble Energy to supply it with gas from the American company’s stake in Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field.
Jordan has no oil and gas of its own and imports 98% of the fuel it needs to generate electricity.
The country used to import natural gas via the Arab Gas Pipeline from Egypt, which supplied 88% — approximately 1 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year — of Jordan’s needs to generate electricity. However, repeated attacks on the pipeline since 2011 forced Jordan’s power plants to find other suppliers and sent its energy bill to record highs.
The deal with Noble Energy would enable Jordan to import around 8.5 million cubic metres of gas per day, about 40% of its needs.
NEPCO said feasibility and technical studies indicated the deal should help it achieve a $600 million annual surplus and keep electricity prices down.
According to NEPCO, the agreement would allow Jordan to utilise gas fields discovered in the Palestine territories, Cyprus and Egypt by making “Jordan part of regional project by the European Union and the Union for the Mediterranean aimed at taking advantage of gas finds in the eastern Mediterranean”.
It would also allow Jordan to diversify energy supplies in light of the attacks on the Egyptian gas pipeline.
NEPCO signed a letter of intent with Noble Energy in September 2014 to research supplying its power stations with gas from the Mediterranean field off the coast of Haifa. The letter of intent led to contentious debates within Jordan and many members of parliament and activists rejected the idea of importing gas from Israel.
In 2015, Abdullah Ensour, then the prime minister, said the plan would be put on hold “until the US company settles its ongoing legal dispute with Israel”. Israeli Antitrust commissioner David Gilo had rescinded an agreement with Noble Energy and Delek Group allowing the two companies to retain majority stakes in Israel’s two biggest gas fields, Tamar and Leviathan.
NEPCO said the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty regulates the two countries’ relations. According to the company, the deal with Noble Energy is only one future gas import option.
“Signing the deal is in line with the government’s policy to diversify its energy resources and increase the competitiveness of the major national industries,” the state-owned company said in a statement.
Jordan cannot only rely solely on renewable energy to meet electricity demand, which, according to official figures, rises 6-7% annually, but also needs natural gas, the statement said.
According to the government, Jordan will continue to import liquefied natural gas through the terminal in Aqaba.
Government spokesman Mohammad Momani said it was shallow to suggest that Jordan supports the Israeli occupation by signing the gas deal.
“We are the one country most capable of confronting this occupation,” he said in televised remarks. The matter should be put in perspective, he said, since Jordan had a peace deal with Israel and long-standing bilateral trade agreements.
The deal is a strategic choice based on the need to diversifying energy supplies and does not put Jordan at Israel’s mercy as some had suggested, Momani said.
Activists threatened to sue the government over the gas deal with Israel, which they said would hurt the kingdom’s economy.
“The government prefers to support the terrorist Israeli entity with billions of dollars instead of investing in renewable energy projects and creating jobs for Jordanians,” said a member of the Jordanian National Campaign Against the Gas Agreement with the Zionist Entity group who declined to be named.
The group said it formed a legal team in cooperation with the Jordan Bar Association to file a lawsuit against the government calling for the cancellation of the agreement.
“It is a deal rejected by the people of Jordan. It has long-term economic, political and moral consequences that would affect the country. By signing the agreement, our national security and economy will be at the mercy of the Zionist entity,” said Sireen Itani, a member of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in Jordan.
The deal would see Jordan investing and developing Israel’s energy sector, she said.
“A good percentage of our electricity bills would be sent to Israel. We would be funding its next war on Gaza,” she said.
Even younger, non-political Jordanians tended to agree.
“I think the government should not accept it since Palestinians are murdered in Palestine by Israel every day,” said university student Heba Khaleed, 19. “And to think we would have another contract with the Zionist state. We are letting our martyrs down.”