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