Natural-Gas Facilities Too Close for Safety, Say Northern Residents

YERUSHALAYIM -

The offshore natural gas discoveries promise an era of Israeli energy independence, but for residents of the northern coastal area, it threatens an era of pollution and potential catastrophe.

Protests are reportedly ramping up as news that no fewer than 32 gas platforms are planned for the coastal stretch from Haifa to Netanya, which could seriously affect the quality of life in the region, according to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Only 16 of them are generally known about, but another 16 are planned for a second phase of development.

Besides the offshore facilities, there is concern about an onshore processing station for the highly toxic condensate, a valuable natural gas byproduct, at the Hagit power station between Zichron Yaakov and Yokneam. Opposition activists say that in most other countries, the hazardous material is processed much farther from populated areas.

The Citizens Coalition has questioned why an initial plan FPSO (Floating, Processing, Storage and Offloading) barges, which are in use industry-wide, a much safer distance out to sea (60 miles, was shelved in favor of stationing facilities closer to shore (about 6 miles).

“The FPSO was the original solution offered by Noble Energy and this is something that is acceptable,” Moti Klinger, head of the Composite Materials Department at Haifa’s Technion University and a member of the Citizens Coalition, told The Jerusalem Report.

“This is the solution of today, 2017. Almost nobody in the world is using the [gas platforms] any more. This is old technology. It is dangerous and pollutes near the shore. The trend these days is to do it as close as possible to the gas field.

Queries of government officials and Noble Energy seeking an explanation for the change have not elicited a satisfactory response, according to the CC.

Fleisher Communications, on behalf of Noble Energy, issued the following statement: “The development plan approved by the Ministry of Energy on June 2, 2016 will deliver natural gas to the Israeli market and to neighboring countries before the end of 2019. The Leviathan Production Platform is located 10 km offshore on the edge of the continental shelf and within the area approved by the National Planning Committee’s National Outline Plan 37H. The platform is designed to the highest safety and environmental standards and will provide a reliable supply of natural gas that, in addition to strengthening the country’s energy security, will provide the people of Israel with a clean-burning natural gas that will replace coal and improve our air quality and the health of our children for generations to come.”

The objections are environmental and health-based but also esthetic.

“Why,” ask objectors to new plans for developing the Leviathan gas field off the Carmel coast, “have proposals for up to 16 130-meter high, massive gas platforms been changed from siting them 120 km from shore for safety, efficiency and security reasons to as little as seven to 10 km from shore?” There is no doubt they will be an ugly blot on the landscape. When you look out from the hillside town of Zichron Yaakov and gaze from the seashore to the horizon, it is a distance of approximately 32 km. The platforms will stand around a quarter of the distance out to sea, far too close by almost all calculations and international norms.

The local councils of Zichron Yaakov, Fureidis, Megiddo, Alona and Daliat al-Carmel have joined the CC in opposing the current gas plan, and other communities, including Netanya, may join at a later time.

“[We are] collaborating with the Citizens Coalition, to find a solution to this issue … the council will transfer funds to support the cause. In addition, the council has been negotiating with government officials, including MKs, the ministers of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee of the Knesset to adjust the plans and push the gas platforms further into the sea. The Council also joined the Megiddo Regional Council’s petition to the High Court against the condensate facility in Hagit.

“Even if we blindly accept the assertions that condensate is a safe fuel that poses no actual risk to the environment or to the health of the community in its close vicinity, there is still a major health risk as a result of a potential malfunction, or the possibility that the facilities and platforms will become a strategic target in case of war or missile attacks. Neither the government, nor the gas companies have reassured us about dealing with such horrific scenarios,” Ziv Deshe, head of the Zichron Yaakov council, told the Report.