The Justice Ministry
unveiled the draft of a proposed bill on Tuesday that will ultimately completely
restructure the legal regime and sovereignty principles governing the country’s
If it passes, the bill will settle a myriad of security,
environmental and economic issues.
From a security perspective, the bill
– or amendments to it – aims to address the state’s position on conflicts with
Lebanon over potential sea-based resources that straddle both countries’ coastal
The bill or its amendments will also eventually solidify new
military rules of engagement for how aggressively the navy can preemptively
defend the Tamar, Leviathan and other energy-related installations from
potential but uncertain threats, and will determine how large a security
perimeter the state will try to impose on foreign sea vessels traveling
Although this initial draft version is heavier on details about
environmental, economic and general criminal law aspects of Israel’s territorial
waters – and has not as concretely resolved the security issues – the ministry
felt it was important to publicize the draft now, partially in the hope of
spurring the government to act on the legislation.
Many ministries have
been discussing the proposal behind closed doors for years, but have not made
anything public or moved forward with an actual bill.
government official would say that outside concerns had dictated the timing of
the draft’s publication, making the draft public may indirectly soften some of
the harsh criticism that the government has received of late from the energy
industry, including accusations that Israel’s red tape was driving away foreign
The draft is also the state’s first attempt to manifest
concretely its commitment to the principles underlying the major UN conventions
governing the sea, such as defining an Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical
miles, or a larger zone beyond the immediate nearby coastal waters, where Israel
would exercise some – but not all – aspects of sovereignty.
The bill is
expected to go through numerous changes now that it is open to the public for
the first time. However, just publishing a draft of the mammoth legislation –
which will revisit and update a number of outdated laws passed in the 1950s –
was a significant event.
Environmentalists have long been voicing concern
that the supervisory laws of Israel do not apply to the country’s Exclusive
Economic Zone, where most gas drilling occurs.
Because laws defining
environmental procedure and liability do not apply to that zone, no one can
legally be held accountable for damages that ensue there, according to a policy
paper published in March by Dr. David Schorr, chairman of Tel Aviv University’s
Law and Environment Program.
Noble Energy – the largest stakeholder in
the Tamar and Leviathan reservoirs – has repeatedly maintained that despite the
lack of legislation in the Exclusive Economic Zone, the company adheres to all
US safety protocols for drilling.
Examining the new Justice Ministry
proposal, Schorr particularly criticized the bill for applying neither the Clean
Air Law nor the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) protocol that the
Environmental Protection Ministry typically requires of industries.
means that the oil platforms can pollute the air with impunity,” Schorr
While praising the Justice Ministry’s decision to issue a bill,
Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) cited several flaws
within its text that could allow for “environmental disaster” to occur in waters
that the organization describes as the “Wild West.”
One of the biggest
problems is that the bill does not apply planning and building laws to the
Exclusive Economic Zone, the organization said. As such, there are no
requirements for environmental-impact studies of drilling plans and for
examinations of suitable alternatives.
The bill enables “gas companies to
operate without real regulation, transparency and public participation,”
explained Adam Teva V’Din executive director Amit Bracha.
Teva V’Din’s sentiments, Schorr said he also took issue with the bill’s
suggestion that the Environmental Protection Ministry have only a consultative
role in the offshore construction process. The bill also does not allow for
environmental provisions that the ministry usually attaches to business
licenses, he explained.
Another problem Schorr cited was that the
environmental laws applied in this proposal were not designed for an offshore
situation and therefore allowed for “plenty of loopholes.”
“You need a
major piece of legislation or regulation that looks at this industry as
different and comes up with tailor- made legislation for this industry,” he
On the same day that the Justice Ministry released the bill, the
Energy, Water and National Infrastructures Ministry published a series of
environmental guidelines for offshore petroleum drilling.
As a condition
for exploratory and commercial licenses, companies must submit an “environmental
document,” including environmental monitoring programs and assessments, to the
head of the Petroleum Commission, as well as emergency treatment plans to the
Environmental Protection Ministry’s Marine and Coastal Division, the guidelines
For commercial drilling structures in Israel’s territorial waters,
companies must submit an environmental-impact statement – as the Planning and
Building Law mandates – to planning authorities, which will then relay opinions
to the petroleum commissioner and the Environmental Protection Ministry. For
commercial structures in the Exclusive Economic Zone – where the Planning and
Building Law does not apply – companies must submit the documents to the
commission and the ministry, which will consult relevant bodies as needed before
the commissioner grants approval, the guidelines explain.
the ministry, the new guidelines aim “to prevent or minimize as much as possible
environmental hazards that may arise during production or exploration."