Environmental & Health Concerns

WHEN EVERYTHING GOES ‘RIGHT’ (during routine operations…)

Gas rigs are petrochemical plants. Although their pollution depends on the crude gas composition, amount and processing methods, production generally emits high levels of benzene and other carcinogens into the air, and mercury, cadmium, lead and other toxic metals to sea. 

Gas processing also yields a byproduct called condensate, which is highly volatile and carcinogenic. Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar rigs produce thousands of barrels of condensate daily. 

AND WHEN THINGS GO WRONG…

Malfunctions at any location in Israel’s energy infrastructure, including spontaneous structural failures, earthquakes, war and acts of terror, can have dire consequences:

  • Spills and burning of toxic materials causing mass ecosystem destruction
  • Acute danger to adjacent populations
  • Forced shutdowns of power and desalination plants
  • Long-term beach contamination and closures

Israel’s gas-processing platforms, supporting pipelines and on-land storage facilities are close to shore and within populated regions nationwide. 

Haifa Bay refineries have impacted residents for decades, causing morbidity and mortality. The new Leviathan gas rig south of Haifa is only six miles off Israel’s northern shore. The Tamar platform is 14 miles from the southern city of Ashkelon, with an additional reception terminal in nearby Ashdod.

The proposed EAPC’s (Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company) initiative to turn Israel into a crude oil carrier from the Persian Gulf to Europe will place additional petrochemical facilities in the heart of residential communities. The receiving station would be inside the vital tourist city of Eilat, adjacent to its world-unique coral reef nature reserve. Subsequent pipelines would transport the oil hundreds of kilometers through the Negev and Arava to the EAPC terminal in Ashkelon. 

The oil would then be reloaded onto tankers for shipment to southern Europe. This initiative will turn the cities of Eilat and Ashkelon into hubs for oil and liquid natural gas. Experts are concerned that the EAPC plan will exacerbate 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). 

Israel’s tiny dimensions render its environment and public far more vulnerable to petrochemical malfunctions. For perspective, at 22,000 square kilometers, Israel is roughly 448 times smaller than the U.S and 25 times smaller than France. The U.S. Deepwater Horizon spill took place 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana and contaminated 1,300 miles of shoreline. Israel’s Mediterranean coastline is only 122 miles long, and its Tamar and Leviathan gas rigs are only 14 and 6 miles offshore. 

Air Pollution

Air pollution is a leading problem in Israel, causing over 2,500 premature deaths annually, according to a 2020 OECD report. Pollution levels are well above the World Health Organization’s recommended limits. Moreover, Israel’s Environment Ministry assesses pollution-related health and other damages at a staggering NIS 31 billion annually

Studies show significantly higher cancer rates near Haifa’s petrochemical facilities. Experts warn that the nearshore Leviathan rig may expand pollution hotspots to the Carmel region. Israel’s Environment Ministry rejected Noble Energy’s first Leviathan rig emissions request after an investigation showed that the platform would feature six times more potentially polluting equipment than reported. A later report, published in the prestigious Environmental Impact Assessment Review, determined that Noble Energy “grossly underestimated” Leviathan’s polluting air emissions.

In December 2020, Israel’s Environment Ministry fined Chevron-Noble Energy over NIS 3.2 million (around $983,000) for Leviathan air emissions reaching 120 – 180 percent of the permitted amount. The ministry also accused Noble of several violations relating to breakdowns requiring the rig’s emergency flare operation. The rig has experienced over 100 breakdowns in less than two years (an average of one breakdown per week), including one that posed mortal danger according to a report by British engineering firm RPS.

Moreover, air pollution levels have also risen drastically in the southern cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon over recent years, marked by a parallel increase in cancer rates. Studies have yet to determine a potential link between the two (this form of research takes years). However, part of the pollutants currently monitored for are known carcinogens, including benzene, which is carcinogenic at any level. Note also that the Tamar gas rig began operations in 2013, operated for six years without an emissions permit, and in 2016, was found to be emitting more carcinogens than all of Israel’s factories combined. These emissions were thirty times the levels predicted by Noble Energy. 

Severe benzene emissions violations. Haifa refineries, February 15, 2022

Threat to Water Sources

Desalinated water currently supplies most of Israel’s drinking and industrial water usage. In 2017, an oil spill from an aging pipe near the city of Ashdod forced the closure of three out of Israel’s five desalination plants. 

The Leviathan gas rig is only nine miles from a desalination plant providing the annual water needs of over one million (of Israel’s nearly 9.5 million residents). Experts warn that a largescale spill could shut down this plant. The rig also produces thousands of barrels of (highly toxic) condensate every day. The barrels are pumped over vital groundwater reserves and through population centers before export. Even a small-scale condensate spill will contaminate groundwater, soil and air. 

Additionally, the Leviathan rig permit currently allows for an adjacent tanker containing up to 600,000 barrels of condensate. If implemented, this scenario will significantly increase spill risks from routine operations, malfunctions or acts of violence. 

"Even a small-scale condensate spill of a few meters-cubed [1mc = 264 gallons] can pollute millions of cubic meters of water… shutting down the water system and causing significant damage to the soil, desalination plants, nature reserves, fish farms and farmlands."

- Yosi Bar, Hydrologist

"The pipes connecting the Tamar and Leviathan wells to their processing platforms are among the longest worldwide and apply a problematic technology known as tie-back. Generally used for only highly specific cases, tie-back presents both engineering and environmental challenges, requiring an anti-freeze agent that blocks up pipes and considerably increases air and sea pollution during gas processing and in case of a spill.”

- Prof. Einat Aharonov, Geophysicist. Head of Hebrew University's Petroleum Geology Program
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