Gov’t Hits Upon New Ammonia-Storage Solution

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

After the courts rejected a government proposal to store ammonia in ships off the coast of Haifa, the government has hit upon another scheme — storing ammonia in ships off the coast of Haifa. However, these ships will be much smaller, and will store the ammonia for just a short time.

Earlier this month, the government approved a plan to 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. However, the Court has rejected that plan as well. The latest iteration of the storage project would have a storage facility built about three kilometers out to sea, with ammonia transported to customers via a pipeline. That project, however, will take at least a year and a half to develop — and the storage of ammonia in small ships for just days at a time, anticipating the needs of customers and delivering the ammonia, is a viable solution, the government decided at a discussion of the matter.

At issue is the closure of aging ammonia storage facilities in Haifa port, which the High Court ordered closed months ago. 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 decision needs to be approved by the Cabinet and Haifa Chemicals; neither body is expected to oppose it. Once approved, however, the decision could be the subject of another High Court petition brought by environmental groups.