Ammonia to Be Stored in Offshore Ships, Gov’t Decides

YERUSHALAYIM -
Haifa Chemicals’ ammonia tank, Israel’s largest ammonia storage tank, is seen in the Haifa Bay area. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

The government is likely to approve a program that would allow Haifa Chemicals to store ammonia off the coast of Haifa in dedicated ships. The ships would replace the aging storage facilities that the High Court has ordered to be dismantled. The plan was discussed at a recent meeting involving representatives of various government ministries, including the Environment, Finance and Economy Ministries.

The final order for closure of the facilities in Haifa Port was issued months ago, but the government has sought to postpone the closure until a suitable replacement could be found. According to the government, the ammonia stored in the facilities is essential in the production of many industrial and consumer items, such as fertilizers, cement, paper, medicines, food products and much more. Many of those industrial concerns are located in the Haifa area, and transporting the ammonia from elsewhere would be impractical, according to officials.

Several plans have been considered but rejected. In 2013 the Environment Ministry approved a plan to move it to a less-populated area of the Negev, because of fears that a leak or other incident could endanger the health and lives of the 800,000 residents of the region. The matter has been a cause célebré for environmental groups for decades, who have organized many petitions, protests and marches over the years to move the facility. However, no action has been taken on building that replacement facility yet. At the meeting, officials said that they would soon approve this plan.

The Finance Ministry said that the plan to store ammonia in ships was more practical – and cheaper – than other plans that have been bruited about. “Besides the fact that this alternative requires no state funding at all, it will allow for competition between different suppliers of ammonia, who will be able to take advantage of the plan. In addition, it will reduce the need to transport ammonia on the country’s roads,” the Ministry said.