Cabinet members unanimously approved a plan to speed up the planning process for natural gas absorption terminals at Sunday’s meeting.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu criticized the ongoing bureaucratic delays in establishing natural gas refinery facilities and stressed the government must accelerate the process of planning and construction to ensure a stable natural gas supply for the country.

“The current discoveries of natural gas reserves at sea belong to the Israeli people and it is very important that they benefit from them,” Netanyahu said, according to his office.

“The Israeli economy will become stronger as a result of these discoveries. The economic growth will stem from the use of these discoveries and they must not be delayed.”

Having the gas in service would save Israelis NIS 12 billion, according to Netanyahu.

The prime minister instructed his office’s director-general, Harel Locker, to implement the recommendations immediately and if delays do occur, to open legislative proceedings.

The Energy and Water Ministry had no comment on the decision.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel praised the ministers, noting that the decision will balance out the needs for getting the gas flowing as quickly as possible with those of maintaining planning procedures and incorporating public participation.

“From an environmental, social and health perspective, natural gas has significant advantages over the use of coal or other polluting fuels for electricity production, and therefore, any delay in the arrival of natural gas means continued use of polluting and harmful energies,” a statement from SPNI said.

“For everyone’s quality of life, it is important to advance the absorption of natural gas, which will reduce morbidity from air pollution and will be significantly cheaper than other alternatives, which will be felt for the better in the pocket of each and every one of us.”

Fifteen mayors of towns in the region where the gas connection is likely to occur were not quite so pleased, however.

In a letter written to the cabinet ministers, the mayors – of Carmel Coast, Zichron Ya’acov, Haifa, Acre, Mateh Asher, Menashe, Tamra, Shfaram, Emek Hefer, Fureidis, Hadera, Or Akiva, Kiryat Motzkin, Kiryat Ata and Kiryat Bialik – said that planning should be advanced only after the completion of the master plan for facilities receiving gas.

The mayors criticized the Energy and Water Ministry for not taking public opinion into account, demanding that the overall environmental impact reports on gas drilling include studies on the preferred alternative of these sites – a choice that had been disqualified by the National Council for Planning and Building, according to the mayors.

This option would involve performing nearly the entire gas uptake process in a sea-based platform in shallow water, with the completion of the process occurring at a small onshore facility that would be limited to one hectare only. The idea has received ample support from experts in both England and Denmark and would suit Israel’s energy economy, the mayors argued.

The mayoral group reminded the ministers in the letter that the uptake facility would be a secondary, additional site that will be constructed adjacent to existing terminals in Ashdod, through the Yam Tethys basin.

They also accused the government of generating unnecessary “panic.”

“Israel has a limited beach area, mostly with infrastructure facilities, some adjacent to population centers,” the mayors wrote. “The security threats to Israel are many and the establishment of a reception facility [offshore] will bring the redundancy requested by the Prime Minister’s Office, which with great vigor is endorsing an onshore facility that would be large, dangerous, polluting and vulnerable to warfare or security incidents.”

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