After four years of anticipation, natural gas from Tamar began flowing from an
offshore rig in the Mediterranean on Saturday, March 30.
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.
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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