A socioeconomic interministerial committee headed by Finance Minister Ehud Olmert approved plans to complete the "northern segment" of Israel's natural gas pipeline, running from Nahsholim to the Haifa area and beyond, the finance ministry said Tuesday "The northern segment will serve natural interest as a link for the power stations and industrial facilities in the region and in particular would reduce the level of polluting emissions in the Haifa area," the ministry said. National Infrastructure Ministry Director General Eli Ronen commented that "bringing natural gas to industry and the market will bring down electricity prices and industrial energy costs significantly and will therefore contribute immensely to consumers' quality of life and improve domestic and international competitiveness within the industrial sector." Natural-gas consuming facilities around the Haifa Bay, Alon Tavor and the Western Galilee will receive the cleaner fuel no later than December 31, 2007, according to the committee's decision, which also called on the national infrastructure minister, interior minister and environmental quality minister to do all in their power to expedite the project. The interior minister was requested to have the relevant planning documentation completed before June 2006. Preference was given to planning, approval and construction of the land line to Haifa and Alon Tavor, while planning of the sea line to Haifa would also be advanced, the ministry said. The national infrastructure minister must report to the government on the project's planning progress no later than February 1, 2006. Israel Natural Gas Lines will direct the construction and the supply of the gas. Currently, a gas line is being laid by Israel Electric between Ashdod and the Hagit power station, near Nahsholim. The gas line linking Ashkelon with Ashdod through the Gezer and Tsafit power stations is planned for construction in 2006 by Israel Natural Gas Lines, which holds the license to construct and operate the pipe system. It is also expected to complete the "southern segment" leading from Gezer to Ramat Hovav and Sdom during 2007. As a further step towards funding the projects agreed on between the state and Israel Natural Gas Lines, the socioeconomic interministerial committee also decided to expand the company's share capital by roughly NIS 399m. to total NIS 554m. This sum will cover the NIS 360m. earmarked to fund the Ashdod-Ashkelon loop, NIS 100m. for the Gezer-Sdom line and other costs, which are mostly related to agreements with domestic and foreign engineering companies. Natural gas from Egypt, to be supplied through a 130-km pipeline between El-Arish and Ashkelon is expected to be available in the second half of 2007 at an estimated cost of $300m. Until then Yam Thetis' natural gas deposit off the coast of Ashkelon is the only source in use.