1) Why was the Leviathan processing platform placed so close to shore and what does Israel’s security establishment say on the matter?
The Leviathan well is located 75 miles (120 kilometers) at sea. Plans originally called for its crude gas to be processed at a floating platform (FPSO) above the well. However, Noble Energy later announced that the platform would move to 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) offshore, adjacent to dozens of coastal towns and one of Israel’s most pristine beaches. No explanation or supporting evidence was provided by Noble Energy or relevant Israeli government ministries.
To protect the strategic drilling wells and FPSO at sea, the Israeli Navy acquired four modern, advanced Sa’ar 6-class corvettes (missile boats) from Germany. Additionally, the Israeli Navy developed a maritime version Iron Dome, called the Naval Iron Dome, specifically for protecting gas platforms deep at sea; the system became operational in 2018.
Following the shift in platform positioning, Israel’s authorities – including the IDF and Ministry of Defense — were awkwardly silent about the missile boat acquisitions and the ostensibly profligate spending on weapons systems that are not relevant for defending a nearshore rig. In a laconic statement, the IDF said that a nearshore rig would be easier to defend, without any supporting evidence or discussion of the purchase of the Sa’ar 6 ships.
Finally, Moshe Yaalon, who served as minister of defense when the decision was made to place the rig 120 kilometers offshore and when the missile boats were bought from Germany, stated in July 2018 that he was surprised that the rig was moved 10 kilometers offshore, given that the Ministry of Defense had decided during his tenure that the most secure location for the rig is 120 kilometers offshore. He still holds that to be true. (Embed video clip). The submarine purchases, also known as the 3000 affairs, are at the heart of the current legal proceedings against Prime Minister Netanyahu.
2) You are saying that the Israeli government made and is continuing to make decisions that could hurt its people? How is this possible?
Israel’s heavy investment in petrochemicals can best be explained by:
- Timing: The country’s fossil fuel reserves were discovered when renewable energies had yet to offer a viable alternative.
- Science: At the time, gas was still viewed as an optimal “transitional” energy, that is far less polluting than coal. Research has since demonstrated that over the course of its extraction, processing, transporting and burning cycle, gas ends up contributing far more to global warming than coal.
- Inexperience: Israel is at the very beginning when it comes to this industry and has already experienced serious failures in this regard. Some examples: Leviathan’s multiple breakdowns (which ultimately prompted investigation by an international firm and fines totaling nearly 7 million NIS to date for severe emissions to air and sea; prolonged leaking when the Leviathan was drilled, and the 2016 discovery that Tamar had emitted more than 30 times the pollutants originally predicted, making it Israel’s number 1 polluter. Following these events and intensive efforts by Shomrei Habayit and other green organizations, Israel is tightening its regulation and monitoring capacities. Extensive work remains,
- Finances: The power of the well-funded petrochemical industry to sway public policies and discourse.
- Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has time and again demonstrated a remarkable lack of understanding or unwillingness to confront the dangers of natural gas as a fossil fuel, and even the existence of climate change (see video in which he claimed that climate change was a “surprise” to scientists). Steinitz’ 2013 newspaper interview, in which he stated that “The petrochemical lobby is so powerful there is nothing you can do against them,” and “I admit there were times I was afraid,” together with the submarine affair (part of the current legal proceedings against Prime Minister Netanyahu), convey the complexity of factors influencing Israel’s energy sector.
3) What is Chevron’s and Noble Energy’s track record when it comes to pollution and safety?
Noble Energy built, operated, and partially owned the Tamar and Leviathan wells and processing platforms, later purchased by Chevron in 2020. Both companies have deplorable track records. The list of spills, accidents, oversights, infractions, and errors is far too long for this short FAQ. We will mention three glaring ones, in Israel and abroad:
- Chevron refused to pay a $9.5 billion fine for the deliberate dumping of billions of liters of toxic water to Equador’s rainforest that created a 1,700 square mile environmental disaster known as the Amazon Chernobyl. The dumping (by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001) has been linked to thousands of cancer deaths and other health problems in the region, home to indigenous tribes. Chevron subsequently left Ecuador, abandoning hundreds of open pits of crude oil waste that continue to poison rainforest streams and rivers. Moreover, the company cruelly and vindictively abused the attorney and human rights defender Steven Donzinger, through a $35 million harassment lawsuit that forced him into house arrest in January 2020, where he still awaits trial.
- Noble Energy committed to emitting less than 40 tons of Volatile Organic Contaminators (VOC) per year at the Tamar Platform offshore of Ashkelon. In fact, in 2016, the platform had reported emissions of nearly 1,200 tons annually (more than 30 times the originally predicted values).
- Attempts to modify Leviathan terms and conditions – Noble Energy was relentless in its efforts to shirk monitoring and increase permitted pollution levels at the Leviathan Platform. Its actions at the Tamar and Leviathan platforms speak louder than words. The company’s intent was to produce as much gas as possible, even if achieved at the expense of people’s health, lives and the environment.
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