Environmental and health risks
When everything goes “right” (during routine operations)…
Gas rigs are petrochemical plants. While their pollution levels depend on the amount of crude gas being processed, its composition and the methods used, the production generally emits extremely high levels of benzene and other carcinogens to the air, and heavy metals including mercury, cadmium, and lead to sea.
Gas processing also yields high concentrations of condensate – a highly volatile and carcinogenic by-product. The Leviathan and Tamar rigs produce thousands of barrels of condensate daily.
(btw, these YouTube titles should be edited).
And when things go wrong…
Malfunction at any location in Israel’s energy infrastructure, including spontaneous structural failure, earthquakes, war and acts of terror, can have dire consequences:
- Spills and burning of toxic materials resulting in mass destruction of ecosystems
- Acute danger to adjacent civilian populations
- Shutdown of desalination plants
- Long-term contamination and closure of beaches
Israel’s gas-processing platforms, supporting pipelines and on-land storage facilities are located close to shore and within populated regions nationwide. Haifa’s widely protested refinery has impacted the health of the city’s residents for years. The Tamar platform is 14 miles from the southern city of Ashkelon, while Leviathan is a mere six miles off Israel’s northern shore. This is also the case for the proposed Persian Gulf petroleum initiative, where the receiving station would be in the key tourist city of Eilat, adjacent to its Coral Reef Nature Reserve.
Given Israel’s tiny dimensions – it is roughly 448 times smaller than the U.S and 25 times smaller than France – petrochemical malfunctions can widely impact Israel’s public and environment. For perspective, Deepwater Horizon, which contaminated 1,300 miles of shoreline, was 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
Threat to water sources
The Leviathan rig is only
nine miles from a desalination plant providing the annual water needs of over
one million (of Israel’s nearly 9 million residents). Experts warn that a largescale spill could shut
down this plant; a threat of particular concern given regional
aridity. Processed water (from the Mediterranean Sea and other sources) currently
supplies most of Israel’s home and industrial water usage.
Experts are also concerned that even a small-scale spill of condensate, the highly carcinogenic by-product created during crude gas processing, could shutdown key water systems. The Leviathan rig produces thousands of barrels of condensate daily that are piped over vital groundwater reserves and through population centers to the city of Haifa before export. The pipes pose air, soil, and water contamination risks.
The Leviathan rig permit also allows for an adjacent tanker that could contain up to 100,000 barrels of condensate, greatly increasing spill risks from routine operations, malfunctions or acts of violence.
According to the OECD, Israel’s air pollution levels are already well above the WHO recommended limits, causing nearly 2,500 premature deaths and exceeding $7 billion in health-related costs annually.
Studies show significantly higher cancer rates near Haifa’s petrochemical facilities, and experts warn [link to Gerber in Experts section] that the nearshore Leviathan rig may expand these pollution hotspots to the Carmel region.
As with the Tamar Rig, where the 2016 emissions were thirty times the levels predicted by Noble Energy, the company’s first Leviathan rig emissions request was rejected after an investigation showed that the platform would feature six times the amount of potentially polluting equipment than reported. Moreover, a later report published in the prestigious Environmental Impact Assessment Review determined that Noble Energy’ “grossly underestimated” the quantity of polluting air emissions and relied on “overly simplistic” models.
In December, 2020 The Ministry of Environment fined Chevron-Noble Energy over NIS 3.2 million (around $983,000) for air pollution emissions from the Leviathan platform reaching 120 – 180 percent the permitted amount.
The ministry also accused Noble of several violations relating to breakdowns necessitating the operation of the platform’s emergency flare stack. To date, over 30 breakdowns have occurred at the platform (in less than a year), including one that posed ‘mortal danger’ according to a report by British engineering firm RPS.
Experts are also highly concerned that the government’s plans to transport crude oil from the Persian Gulf to Europe through Eilat and Ashkelon could impact air pollution and potentially decimate Israel’s renowned coral reef, the world’s only reef largely spared by climate change. (See letter signed by over 200 local and international scientists).
Current data indicating a correlation between air pollution and increased susceptibility to Covid-19 infection, mortality and transmission add to the urgency of regulating emissions from Israel’s energy sector.
Israel’s petrochemical facilities are key strategic targets in a highly volatile region. The decision to position the Leviathan gas rig close to shore prompted widespread warnings, including by former Navy Chief and Head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Committee, Prof. Shaul Horev, who claimed that an attack to a nearshore platform could endanger Israel’s national security, shutting down desalination plants and jeopardizing electricity production.
Unfortunately, Horev’s and other expert warnings were unheeded by Israel’s Ministry of Energy and the nearshore Leviathan rig began operations in January 2020, accompanied by Hezbollah threats.
An attack would not be a first for local petrochemical facilities. Jihadist extremists have sabotaged the Egypt-Israel pipeline running through the Sinai Peninsula on numerous occasions.
Moreover, following Iran’s September 2019 attack on Saudi oil facilities in the Gulf, Israeli security experts warned that the Iron Dome missile defense system could not effectively protect Israel’s nearshore rigs. In a sobering report, former Raphael missile expert, Yeshayahu Schatzberger, wrote that “Iran and Hezbollah currently have the missile capacity to strike the Leviathan rig … as well as related condensate, gas facilities and Haifa’s refinery.”
Later, in May 2019, a massive rocket attack from Gaza forced Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz to shut down the Tamar processing facility, located 14 miles from the southern city of Ashkelon. This event drove home the dangers of coupling an inherently unsafe industry – involving highly volatile and environmentally-damaging materials – with the strife-filled Middle East and is one of the key factors motivating the relentless efforts by IHG and many others to encourage Israel’s rapid transition to renewables.
- Read more about the decision to position the rigs near Israel’s coast.
[Link to Q&A]
- Read more expert concerns about Israel’s petrochemical industry
[link to “What Experts are Saying”.]
Global Climate Crisis
Climate change is here. Heat waves, droughts, floods, and superstorms are occurring at an ever-growing pace, piling up astronomic losses and dire predictions for ecosystems, health and food and water supplies.
Israel and other Middle Eastern and North African countries (collectively referred to as the MENA region) are particularly vulnerable to global warming, representing a climate change hotspot in which heat waves and dry spells are increasing even faster than global patterns. Indeed, a recent report by Israel’s Ministry of Environment paints an alarming picture for Israel and the region, describing plummeting precipitation and the growing risk of extreme heat, natural disasters, pandemics, water contamination, massive migration and border tensions.
Worldwide, strong emission reductions are needed by 2030 to meet the objectives of the Paris agreement, which requires signatories to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Centigrade.
“Natural” gas is actually methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Large amounts of CO2 and methane are emitted during gas production, refining, and transportation. Research has now shown that methane is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 when measured over a 20-year period, which means that the gas industry contributes more to global warming than coal!
Many countries have internalized the implications of producing and using oil and gas and are transitioning to renewables. This includes Norway, that in 2019 decided to walk away from billions of gallons of oil and natural gas. Biden’s recent blitz of environmental orders added great cause for hope and academic institutions and private investors worldwide are also opting out of fossil fuel investments.
Unfortunately, Israel lags behind.
While Israel has committed to producing 30 percent of its electricity through renewables by 2030, critics claim this is way too little, too late. Moreover, Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz, (who proudly calls himself “The Gas Minister”) is continuing to invest heavily in gas-fired energy facilities nationwide, anchoring the country to polluting energy for decades.
IHG recently submitted a report to Israel’s Electric Authority urging the transition to 80% renewables by 2030 instead of the only 30% proposed.
- Read more: Letter to Energy Ministry by over 100 scientists including Nobel and Israel Prize winners urging Israel’s rapid transition to renewables
Gas strategy is outdated and unsustainable
Solar energy is now substantially cheaper to produce than gas and is increasingly accompanied by new “big battery” storage technologies that solve the key challenge for green energy – the intermittency of wind and sunlight. Battery storage technologies are now working successfully in power plants, as recently demonstrated by the increased capacity to store electricity, from 100 to 150 megawatts at Australia’s Tesla Big Battery.
IHG maintains that Israel’s ongoing investment in oil and gas, including the plans for 12 gas-fired power stations, anchors the country to past, far more polluting technologies.
Our organization invests considerable efforts in advocating the country’s transition to renewables – studying the subject and making information accessible to local authorities, decision makers and the public.