London — Energy ministers from across the East Mediterranean met Thursday to finalize the founding framework of a new forum to promote regional cooperation in the gas sector.
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Ministers from Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority met in Cairo for the third time since January 2019 to cement the creation of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF).
"The success in completing the foundational framework in record time, spanning 12 months, and the enthusiasm of the members in implementing its activities, reflects their deep belief in its importance," the Egyptian oil ministry said in a statement.
The institutional framework elevates the forum to the level of an inter-governmental organization, based in Cairo, it said.
The ministers agreed to submit the initialed framework document to the European Commission for review, after which it will be signed by the founding members once compliance with EU law is guaranteed.
The first meeting of the ministers took place in January 2019 when it was agreed to create the EMGF, with a second ministerial meeting in July 2019, when it was agreed to accelerate work.
The forum will serve as a platform for establishing a structured dialog on gas, "setting an agenda for formulating common strategies and regional gas policies based on a shared vision and supported by government cooperation," the Egyptian ministry said.
"The EMGF is expected to influence the realization of the full potential of the region and reflects the desire of many parties and international organizations to support its activities," it said.
Supporting partners include the EU and the US, which has asked to be a permanent observer to the forum.
The EMGF ministerial meeting Thursday came at a critical time, with Israel having started gas exports to Egypt and Jordan at the start of 2020 and Turkey continuing to drill in waters internationally recognized as being part of Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Cyprus, Egypt and Israel have made significant gas discoveries in the East Mediterranean in the past decade, but monetizing the reserves has proved problematic.
There has been progress in the past year, with Israel finally starting up Leviathan and beginning pipeline exports, and Cyprus reaching a provisional deal to pipe gas from its Aphrodite field to Egypt.
US-based Noble Energy -- operator of Leviathan and Israel's other offshore gas giant Tamar -- said this week the interconnects between the Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian pipeline networks are now "fully operational."
Combined gross gas sales from the Leviathan and Tamar fields in January to date have averaged 1.5 Bcf/d, with peak days up to 1.7 Bcf/d, Noble said.
Another key infrastructure project in the region also has the political backing of Cyprus, Greece and Israel -- the planned 1,900 km, 10 Bcm/year EastMed pipeline designed to link the offshore gas resources of both Cyprus and Israel to Greece by 2025.
The pipeline is being developed by IGI Poseidon, a joint venture between Italy's Edison and Greece's DEPA.
Following the signing of an intergovernmental agreement between Cyprus, Greece and Israel in early January on the realization of the EastMed pipeline, Turkey -- which has no representation to the EMGF -- said projects disregarding Turkey in the East Mediterranean "cannot succeed."
Greek energy minister Kostis Hatzidakis said Thursday that the foundation of the EMGF would enable the countries of the region to use energy "as a catalyst for peace and cooperation, rather than as a cause for conflict in an already troubled region."
In a tweet, Hatzidakis said Turkey could be accepted on one basic condition: respect for international law.
"Unfortunately, both its illegal actions in the Cyprus EEZ and the signing of the infamous memorandum with Libya so far testify to the contrary," he said.
Ankara in December signed with the UN-backed government in Libya an agreement on a maritime border between the two countries that overlaps with the EEZs of Greece and Cyprus.