Amid the barbecues and picnics at Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, members of an environmental activism group invoked the memory of David Ben-Gurion and called for a more stringent policy on natural gas exports Tuesday afternoon on what they described as an “Energy Independence Day.”

Leading the protest were Hebrew University members of Green Course, a volunteer environmental organization with chapters on university and college campuses all over the country. One student dressed as Ben-Gurion rambled among families and picnickers, urging them to refuse to let the government export what the activists feel are massive amounts of natural gas.

“We are going out on a positive and celebratory day to tell Israelis about the wonderful gift we have received and the unbearable ease with which we might lose it if we do not demand that decision-makers protect our interests,” said Nicole Baker, the coordinator of the Gan Sacher event.

While the newly flowing 250-billion-cubic-meter Tamar gas reservoir will supply Israelis with enough of the resource for about 25 years, its neighbor Leviathan – about double the size – will likely be used in part for export. The government has yet to decide on the exact quantities allocated for export, but the Zemach Committee recommended in the early fall last year permitting no more than 500 billion cubic meters for that purpose.

This suggested figure has had environmental activists and officials – including Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and his predecessor Gilad Erdan – up in arms, as they feel much more must be kept in Israeli hands. Members of Green Course sent a letter to Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom this month expressing their concerns about the export figures, while environmental advocacy group Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) distributed a question- and-answer guide to that same effect among MKs.

A major element of concern among environmentalists is that the government would be determining an export allocation cap before actually knowing for sure the exact quantity of gas that Leviathan contains.

In Gan Sacher, the Green Course members milled around the picnickers and stressed that the government must keep enough natural gas to serve Israelis for 50 years, engaging children in activities that also relayed this message.

The activists emphasized that their efforts are part of a much greater environmental trend that has overtaken the country, and that there are already 11 green organizations campaigning for this cause.

Following Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s declaration last week that he aims to establish a public committee to reexamine exploitation of the country’s natural resources by private enterprises, Green Course has likewise demanded that natural gas be one of the reassessed resources. Such action would require reopening the conclusions of the Sheshinski Committee, which determined a new taxation method for oil and gas exploitation in Israel and was approved by the Knesset on March 30, 2011.

If such a reassessment were to occur, the CEO and chairman of the largest stakeholder in the drilling – Charles Davidson of Noble Energy – said he would reconsider the company’s presence in Israel’s Mediterranean waters. Such a move, he warned, would “scare off” companies interested in exploring gas in Israel.

Supporting the conclusions of the Zemach Committee, Davidson told reporters at a meeting last week that an ample export allocation will encourage more companies to come and continue to seek new gas reserves in the region, as they will understand that multiple markets are available.

The influx of gas into Israel that has already begun from the Tamar reservoir is gearing the country toward a more secure economic and environmental future, as the government has instantly begun receiving levies and royalties from the gas coming, Davidson explained. Meanwhile, because natural gas is a much cleaner resource than coal or fuel oil, using the amount of the resource in Tamar will be equivalent to removing 195 millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air – or all the cars in Israel for 14 years, he noted.

By allowing exports, the government will likewise instantly receive even greater amounts of tax revenue and will open the door for further exploration that can benefit the country both domestically and as an exporter, the CEO explained. Meanwhile, Davidson warned, no drilling at all can begin in Leviathan until an export policy is approved, as the drilling infrastructure in the reservoir will be arranged for both domestic and export purposes.

“Because we have discovered so much gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, there is much more than is needed for the local market,” Davidson said.

“We have encouraged the government of Israel to move forward on the numbers for export.”

But the country’s environmentalists are convinced neither that sufficient gas has been allocated domestically nor that the government should move forward with its plan.

“Natural gas can bring here a real economic and environmental transformation, leveraging industry, creating thousands of jobs and saving Israeli families thousands of shekels cumulatively – but this will not happen if we do not make our voices heard,” said Baker from Green Course.

“We call on Israeli citizens not to be suckers, and to resist the Zemach Committee’s conclusions, in order to protect the property of all of us.”

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