FOR decades, Israel was an energy starved country surrounded by hostile, oil-rich neighbors. But now it has a different problem.

Thanks to major offshore discoveries over the last decade. it has more natural gas than it can use or really export.

Having plenty of gas is hardly a burden, and offers a cleaner-burning alternative to Israel's longtime power sources. But it presents challenges for a country that wants to extract geopolitical and economic benefits from a rare energy windfall, including building better relations with its neighbors and Europe.

Part of the problem is timing. Just as Israel prepares to produce and export large amounts of gas, Australia, Qatar, Russia and the United States are flooding the market with cheap gas.

The other is math : Israel's 8.5 million people use in a year less than 1 percent of the gas that has been found beneath the country's waters.

''We have a surplus of gas,'' Yuval Steintz, the energy minister, said in an interview. ''Israel's waters are swimming in gas, and what we have discovered is only the beginning.''

Noble Energy, a company based in Houston that made its first discovery of gas in Israel in 1999, has found more than 30 trillion cubic feet of gas off the country's coast over the last decade. Some experts say that new discoveries could double that.

As a result, Israel is phasing out diesel and coal-fired electricity, replacing it mostly with gas-fired generation and some solar power.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet is considering banning the import of gasoline and diesel cars starting in 2030 and gradually switching to vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas or electricity.

Israel is also stepping up exports to neighbors like Jordan and Egypt. There are even plans to supply gas to a power plant to the West Bank for Palestinian customers.

Yet these efforts will make only a dent in the country's reserves.
''We want to export.'' said Jacob Nagel, the former head of Israel's National Security Council. ''The question is : How much will it cost? Is it possible? How much time will it take?''

For decades, Israel depended on Russia and other sources for fuel, while its industries and homes relied on coal and oil power plants that blanketed its cities with smog.

The switch to gas has helped clear the air of cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa that have converted diesel-fueled plants.

Israel's biggest coal plant - in Haidera, a coastal city will be converted over the nest three years, cutting national coal consumption by 30 percent. Officials say they expect to eliminate coal use in 11 years.

In Hadera, improvements are already noticeable after gas replaced oil in one part of the plant and officials installed a scrubber, an exhaust cleaning device. The beach is no longer caked with sticky black tar, and a yellowish tinge on the horizon is gone.

Guy Stansill, a 38-year-old vegetable farmer in the nearby Sdot Yum kibbutz who can see the plant's chimney his kitchen window, hopes it's for good. His 5-year-old son, Tayo has asthma but is breathing better now that the plant is reducing its emissions.

''Reducing the coal industry will be better for the air and health,'' he said, though he worries about  a  possible spill from drilling and gas processing offshore.

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on Energy Search and Development. continues. The World Students Society thanks author Clifford Krauss.


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