1) Are you saying that the Israeli government made and continues to make decisions that could hurt its people? How is this possible?
Israel’s heavy investment in petrochemicals can best be explained by:
- Timing: Israel discovered its fossil fuel reserves before renewable energies offered a viable option.
- Science: At the time, gas was viewed as an optimal transitional energy that is far less polluting than coal. Research has since demonstrated that gas (comprised mainly of methane) is also a potent fossil fuel. In fact, methane is over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the earth (over the first 20 years). Moreover, large amounts of methane leak during gas extraction, processing and piping.
- Inexperience: Israel is a novice in this industry and has already experienced severe related failures. Some examples: Leviathan’s multiple breakdowns (which ultimately prompted investigation by an international firm and fines totaling millions of shekels for severe emissions to air and sea; prolonged leaking during drilling of the Leviathan well, and the 2016 discovery that Tamar had emitted more than 30 times the pollutants predicted, making it Israel’s leading polluter. Following these events and intensive efforts by IHG 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 policies and discourse.
- Former Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz repeatedly 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.
2) 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 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 be positioned six miles (ten kilometers) offshore, adjacent to dozens of coastal towns and one of Israel’s most pristine beaches. Noble Energy and relevant government ministries refrained from explaining or supporting their decision.
To protect the strategic drilling wells and FPSO at sea, the Israeli Navy acquired four modern, advanced Sa’ar 6-class corvettes from Germany. Additionally, the Israeli Navy developed a maritime version of Iron Dome, called the Naval Iron Dome, specifically to protect gas platforms deep at sea. The system became operational in 2018.
Following the platform’s changed positioning, Israel’s authorities – including the IDF and Ministry of Defense — were awkwardly silent about the missile boat acquisitions and the spending on weapons systems irrelevant for defending a nearshore rig. In a terse 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. However, Moshe Yaalon (who served as minister of defense when the decisions were made to position the rig at the gas well 120 kilometers offshore and purchase the German navy boats) subsequently voiced his utmost surprise that the rig was later moved to 10 kilometers offshore given that his ministry had concluded it would be most secure at the well. Ya’alon said the decision was made without his knowledge!
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 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 into Ecuador’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 widespread cancer morbidity 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 remained for 800 days before beginning a 6-month sentence on October 27, 2021. He was released in December 2021 following an intense international campaign but still faced nearly five more months of house arrest. International environmental organizations united in warning Israel before Chevron’s entrance into the country.
- Noble Energy committed to emitting less than 40 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) per year at the Tamar Platform offshore Ashkelon. However, in 2016, the platform emitted more than 30 times these predicted values (nearly 1,200 tons), releasing more carcinogens than Israel’s power plants and other factories combined.
- 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.