Local opposition to the Leviathan offshore gas rig succeeded on Tuesday in bringing its operations to a halt due to claims that it poses a hazard to public health in communities on Israel’s northern coastline.
The Yerushalayim District Court issued a temporary injunction preventing Noble Energy from conducting “activity involving gas emissions.” Judge Eli Abarbanel said the company’s permit from the Ministry of the Environment will be frozen until after hearings can be held next Sunday.
Leviathan was scheduled to start commercial operations before the end of the year.
The lawsuit against Noble was brought by the municipalities of Zichron Yaakov, Jisr az-Zarqa, Megiddo, Pardes Hanna-Karkur, Emek Hefer and the Zalul environmental NGO.
Abarbanel wrote in his decision that the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Nobel had not provided convincing evidence to refute the petitioners’ charge that the gas field as currently planned would cause irreversible damage to public health.
The municipalities and environmental groups have been fighting the gas project for several years, alleging that the operators have covered up the dangers, and demanded that the rig be relocated further out to sea, so as to minimize potential harm to residents.
A study published in October by the Environmental Impact Assessment Review found that environmental impact assessments carried out for the Leviathan platform by the company “grossly” underestimated the quantity of polluting emissions, contained “a series of flaws,” relied on “overly simplistic” models and needed to be redone more professionally.
While local opposition has been loud and determined, it has not enlisted the support of environmental groups nationwide. Neither the Society for the Protection of Nature nor the legal advocacy group Adam Teva V’Din have joined this fight, according to The Times of Israel.
Dr. Arieh Wenger, an expert in air pollution issues at the latter organization, said in an opinion last year that the benefits of the Leviathan project seemed to outweigh the “very small” risks of air pollution.
Noble has been fighting back, insisting that it meets all standard safety requirements and that fears of environmental damage or harm to the local population are exaggerated.
Michael Grenz, Offshore Environmental, Health, Safety and Regulatory director for all of Noble’s projects outside of the U.S., noted that the platform has a four-tiered safety system: two flare gas recovery units (FGRUs) which capture gases and use them in the platform’s fuel system, and two flares, which can be used to burn off gases in an emergency and during maintenance.
In addition, he said that more than 400 gas and fire detection monitors run constantly on specific pieces of equipment. If two of those monitors are triggered in the same area, that part of the system will automatically shut down, the Times reported.
Regarding concerns raised about a condensate leak, Grenz said that any spill would be minimal because in the unlikely event of a condensate leak, a series of valves at the wells — entering the platform, on the platform and exiting the platform — that would be closed to minimize a release.
“We also have a spill response program in the event of an accident,” he added.