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'Person' of the year in energy and environment: A girl named Tamar
By SHARON UDASIN
29/12/2013
After four years of anticipation, natural gas from Tamar began flowing from an offshore rig in the Mediterranean on Saturday, March 30.
 
After four years of anticipation, natural gas from Tamar began flowing from an offshore rig in the Mediterranean on Saturday, March 30.

When her 282-billion cubic meters of natural gas began to guzzle into Israel’s pipelines this March, a girl named Tamar already became the top contender for “person” of the year in Israel’s energy and environmental sectors. To government officials across the board and those in the energy industry, March 30 became a symbol of Israel’s forthcoming energy security and freedom. While providing the country – and its air – with a cleaner domestic fuel source, Tamar was expected to save Israel about NIS 13 billion annually on energy costs.

The connection of Tamar and its aftermath have not, however, been without complications and questions. The kickoff of copious natural gas flow into Israel, and from Israel, meant establishing a wide variety of new policies and regulations to manage this very resource – as to how much will be kept at home, how much will be exported and how exactly to protect such a precious commodity.

While export of the resource will only come following the development of Tamar’s neighbor, the larger Leviathan, disagreement on the subject among government officials and members of the public delayed that process from moving forward. Following a year of discussions, the Zemach Committee – led by then Energy and Water Ministry director-general Shaul Zemach – recommended capping exports at 53 percent in August 2012. Immediately, a wave of uproar among environmentalists advocated keeping much more at home, the government eventually settled on a 40 percent cap on June 23, 2013.

But MKs across the board – with MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) at their lead – demanded in a High Court of Justice petition that the issue be brought to the Knesset. The High Court, nonetheless, rejected the petition and upheld the government’s gas policy on October 21.

Although the country now has an export policy in place, many controversial questions surrounding Israel’s natural gas development still remain unanswered. For example, activists still are alarmed that Israel’s environmental legislation does not apply to Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the maritime area where the vast majority of offshore drilling occurs. In addition, the question remains where a sorely needed second gas absorption terminal will be placed in Israel’s North – and in whose backyard.

As the country continues to enjoy the benefits of Tamar’s connection this year, all of the stakeholders – government officials, the public, the developers and environmentalists – look to the future with a cautious hope, that a fine balance between profitability and protection can be achieved.

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