Court Rejects Environmental Groups Lawsuit; Leviathan Gas to Start Flowing on Monday

israel gas
View of the Leviathan gas processing rig off the northern coast of Israel. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The Yerushalayim District Court on Thursday canceled an injunction it issued Wednesday night against the operation of the production facility at the Leviathan gas field off the Israeli coast. The court said that the possibility of environmental damage from the facility’s operation did not outweigh the definite damage that would result from shuttering it.

The injunction had been issued when environmental groups filed a petition against the facility, which is the first one that will process natural gas harvested from the Leviathan field. The facility is located about 10 kilometers off the Israeli coast, near Haifa, and was approved by environmental officials to begin production, which is set to begin in the coming days. Environmental groups have for years been protesting the project, claiming it will pollute the waters off the coast and create an environmental hazard.

The much-heralded and much fought-against new era of natural gas in Israel is set to begin on Monday.

Now that the courts have cleared away opposition to the Leviathan field platform from local municipalities and environmental groups, and the Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources has granted its final approval, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection is expected to do the same—the gas wells are scheduled to be opened on Monday morning at 2:00 a.m., Globes reported.

If all goes according to plan, gas will reach the Israel Natural Gas Lines Company’s transportation system at 3 p.m., commencing official and continuous operation of the reservoir.

By 7 a.m., nitrogen will be emitted into the atmosphere, and gradually a limited and supervised quantity of nitrogen mixed with natural gas for a limited number of hours (streaming). In two short periods of eight hours, 49 tons of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), the amount allowed over 18 months during ordinary operation, will be emitted.

Government officials say that this initial period will be carefully monitored for level of potentially harmful emissions. The ministries will have professional teams on the platform and on shore, including in the monitoring stations.

In its decision, the court said that preventing use of the facility would cause a great deal of damage to numerous parties, and that the results “would have far-reaching consequences.” Given that the project has been approved by a long list of experts, as well as the Environment Ministry, the court saw no reason to halt the project. In response, environmental groups accused the ministry of “siding with the economic interests of Noble Energy,” the lead company extracting gas from the field, “over the health of the public, which will be exposed to poisonous gas, cancerous elements and other high health-risk phenomena.” The environmental groups intend to file petitions with the High Court against the project, the said.

Earlier this week, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz signed a deal to export Israeli natural gas to Egypt. In a statement, the Energy Ministry said that “after all the processes and steps were completed on the professional level, the authorization to go ahead with the deal was received, based on the recommendations of government agencies, including those that regulate marketplace competition.”

Egypt is the first international customer for natural gas from Israel, which will include gas from the Leviathan gas field, which is scheduled to enter production next month. Under the deal, Israel will export a total of 60 billion cubic meters (BCM) of gas from Leviathan over the next 15 years, and 25 BCM from the Tamar field over that period as well. Between 2020 and 2034, some 26 billion BCM of that gas will go to Egypt, based on the arrangement between the Israeli licensees of the fields and the Egyptian company authorized to purchase the gas.

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