Final Decision: Ammonia Storage Facility to Move South

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

The government has decided to resolve the ongoing dilemma of how to supply Israeli industry with ammonia by building a new storage facility in southern Israel. The storage facility will be built in the Rotem industrial zone, near Be’er Sheva. The new facility, government officials said, will provide a long-term solution for the ammonia needs of Israeli industry.

Until the facility is built, the ammonia will be stored in small ships off the coast of Haifa. The ships will each hold only  several weeks’ supply of ammonia, so that in the event of a leak or other problem, the environmental damage could be easily controlled. The project will require anticipating the needs of customers and delivering the ammonia. This is to be implemented until the Rotem facility is ready. The ammonia will be transferred to land via a dedicated pipeline.

That will take several years, but government officials said they would do everything possible to push the plan through. Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin said he would seek exemptions from certain planning procedures that would usually require the approval of various planning boards, in conjunction with local officials in the Rotem region. An environmental impact study has already been planned and will be expedited, and any issues that would prevent the establishment of the facility will be resolved quickly, Elkin pledged.

The new facilities will replace the 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. In May, the government approved a plan to allow Haifa Chemicals to store ammonia off the coast of Haifa in dedicated ships. However, the Court rejected that plan as well. The plan to store ammonia in small ships has not been tested in court yet.

The issue of where to store the ammonia has been a hot topic for years. 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 healths and lives of the 800,000 residents of the Haifa region. The matter has been a cause celebré for environmental groups for decades, who have organized many petitions, protests, and marches over the years to move the facility.