Activists stir tensions at nat'l energy convention

By
April 23, 2013 03:42

Protesters: Conference organizers, government officials have a capitalist agenda, are betraying the public.

4 minute read.



Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom at Tamar natural gas rig, March 27, 2013.

Silvan Shalom at Tamar natural gas rig 370. (photo credit: Moshe Binyamin)

Environmental activists protested outside and repeatedly interrupted speeches during the Fifth National Energy Convention on Monday morning, slamming the government for hijacking the public’s natural gas resources.

Standing outside Tel Aviv’s Hilton Hotel with banners, the protesters from the Green Course movement accused the conference organizers and participating government officials of having a capitalist agenda and of abandoning the public interest regarding natural gas.

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Inside the conference hall, activists repeatedly interrupted the speakers with such accusations, and one young woman was even escorted out by security.

“Every three minutes someone comes to disturb us,” said the convention moderator, as the woman left the room between two guards.

The activists, along with many other environmental groups throughout Israel, have demanded that the government ensure a domestic gas supply for 50 years. The 250- billion-cubic-meter Tamar reservoir, which began flowing earlier this month, will likely supply the country with enough gas for 25 years, but the neighboring double-sized Leviathan reservoir is slated to be used for both domestic and export purposes. While the government has yet to approve legislation on the matter, the Zemach Committee in the early fall recommended allotting no more than 500 billion cubic meters for export – a number that environmentalists feel is too generous.

Organized by the Israeli Institute for Energy and Environment (IIEE), the annual National Energy Convention aims to bring together entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers to discuss the current state of Israel’s energy market.

Following a speech from the chairman of the IIEE, Yossi Rozen, during which he emphasized the importance of the Environmental Protection and Energy and Water ministries working together, the institute presented an award of recognition to former energy and water minister and now Tourism Minister Uzi Landau.

The minister’s words, which consisted mostly of thanks to his former staff, were likewise interrupted by various shouts from the activists in the audience.

While praising Landau’s accomplishments in the position, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom emphasized the importance of increased supervision at every step of Israel’s gas developments moving forward.

Recalling his position as Energy Ministry director-general 23 years ago, Shalom stressed that he is happy to have the opportunity to “close a circle.”

Pointing out the stark difference between Israel’s present and past positions in terms of energy security, Shalom likewise referred to an even more distant period – the times of the Yom Kippur War, when Israelis could fill up gas tanks only once a week because of a petroleum embargo. Now, the country’s own natural gas is flowing in its pipes, and private power companies are beginning to supplement the country’s electricity supply in order to ensure a robust system, he noted.

However, Shalom recognized that electricity prices have risen dramatically, particularly since the gas supply from Egypt ceased. Looking forward, he stressed the importance of putting the Israeli consumer at the center – focusing not only on what is good for the state but for the individual as well.

Intrinsic to maintaining Israeli energy independence and security will also be cooperation on energy issues with the country’s neighbors.

“It was my good fortune that as soon as I assumed my post, the gas began to flow,” Shalom said.

Following Shalom’s address, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz similarly echoed the virtues of the large natural gas supply that Israel is now able to call its own. In doing so, however, he called upon the government to ensure that this gas is able to serve his grandchildren’s generation as well.

Along these lines, Peretz said that Israel must make sure that its own citizens have at least 550 billion cubic meters of natural gas before determining an export quantity – particularly because the gas has uses that extend far beyond electricity generation.

“The transportation industry is on the margins of the gas revolution,” Peretz said.

“However, it is one of the most polluting. We cannot skip over this industry in the green revolution that has overtaken Israel.”

In addition, Peretz stressed that he would ensure that companies that define themselves as green in name are actually adhering to green practices, ensuring as high a quality of life as possible for future generations.

After both ministers spoke, a representative from a second activist group – a cohort of Emek Hefer residents – received the podium to address concerns about building a second natural gas receiving terminal in their midst.

While the residents are not at all against gas development for Israel, they do not want this development to come at their expense, and instead prefer an at-sea gas reception terminal, he explained.

“Amir Peretz and Silvan Shalom, your roles are to protect us, to protect our security,” he said. “I call upon you to worry about me, to worry about my friends.”


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