Knesset panel: Marine gas treatment facility should be considered

Developers, Energy Ministry argue some onshore treatment required.

By
July 24, 2013 00:50
Former minister Isaac Herzog.

fmr minister of Welfare and Social Affairs Isaac Herzog 390. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Amid local protest over the placement of future natural gas treatment facilities in the country’s North, the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee called upon the National Council for Planning and Building to clarify why alternative, at-sea options have not been more thoroughly examined.

Organized by MKs Isaac Herzog (Labor) and Dov Henin (Hadash), a contentious debate on the location of gas refining facilities occurred on Tuesday at a committee session overseen by MK Zevlun Kalfa. Many more Knesset members, mayors from the affected region and residents of these communities were present.

In an explanatory note that proposed the discussion, Henin and Herzog asked that the committee examine the placement of gas-refining sites at Hagit in the Megiddo region and a second facility in Emek Hefer. They explained that the placement of these facilities could jeopardize the environment and the safety of the area’s residents.

The gas slated to be refined at these sites would be that of Israel’s approximately 535-billion-cubic-meter Leviathan reservoir, which should be online within a few years. The adjacent 282- b.cu.m. Tamar reservoir, already online, undergoes a combination of treatment processes both at sea and at a facility onshore in Ashdod.

Stressing that treatment facilities at sea would be preferable to similar plants onshore, Herzog asked why the National Council for Planning and Building had not adopted professional recommendations on this issue.

Only days after the election results for the 19th Knesset came in, the Council made a decision to promote the Megiddo and Emek Hefer sites, the explanatory note said.

“What bothers me is the safety risk,” Henin added, expressing concern about causing economic and social harm to vulnerable populations.

“In any case, further gas treatment will be needed at sea, so why not finish the repair at sea?”

Risks exist not only with the onshore treatment facilities themselves, but also with the transmission lines of both the gas and the refining chemicals to the facility – according to David Weinberg, an engineer at the Health Ministry.

Benny Furst, head of the environmental planning department at the Environmental Protection Ministry, informed the group that in October the ministry will complete summative reviews on the potential environmental impact of the projects.

The National Council for Planning and Building decided on the land and sea treatment combination, but during its last session on the subject, the council considered five different options – all onshore, explained Ronit Mazar, a planning director there. Asked by Kalfa and Henin why the Council did not examine a marine option, Mazar responded that the Energy and Water Ministry and the Natural Gas Authority had recommended that the Council reject this option at this stage. However, the program theoretically enables treatment of the gas both at sea and onshore, she explained.

“We are currently in the process of the environmental impact assessment which will examine the marine alternative,” Mazar said.

“After the survey we will hold a discussion.”

Dorit Hochner, director of the physical planning unit at the Energy and Water Ministry, stressed that her ministry is in favor of a combination of marine and onshore treatment sites.

While emphasizing that the treatment of Tamar’s gas occurs both at sea and at the six-hectare Ashdod facility, Natural Gas Authority director Shuki Stern explained that a critical disadvantage of at sea treatment facilities is the length of time required to repair a disruption, compared to a similar occurrence on land.

“There are hundreds of thousands of components at a treatment facility and it is a statistical matter that there will be a glitch,” Stern said.

During a tour of the Tamar rig on Tuesday, Bini Zomer, director of corporate affairs at Noble Energy – the largest stakeholder in the Tamar and Leviathan projects – told The Jerusalem Post that having at least some onshore treatment is logistically necessary.

Although gas has to be dry to be used and flow through the Israel Natural Gas Lines pipelines, when pressure is reduced it cools and generates liquid condensate, Zomer explained. Even after treatment onboard the rig, the gas must travel ashore through undersea pipelines causing pressure to be reduced, necessitating onshore treatment. This treatment, however, occurs in a closed container system, requiring no refining and generates no emissions, Zomer stressed.

“It is not a refinery,” he said.

As regards regional representatives, Yokne’am Mayor Simon Alfasi complained that he has not received summons to all of the National Council meetings on the gas treatment issue, even though Yokne’am has become a thoroughfare for polluting pipelines.

“We were talking about a small facility, but this is going to be a monster of 260 dunams [26 hectares],” Alfasi said.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said she was impressed that so many mayors and residents from the impacted region had shown up for the debate, and that they were not demanding that the facility be moved to someone else’s land, but rather out to sea.

“We will demand the promotion of the marine gas treatment option,” Zandberg said.

At the discussion’s conclusion, Kalfa asked Mazar that the National Council for Planning and Building send the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee all of its letters summoning local authority members to meetings, and that the Council provide comments to all of the difficult questions raised in Tuesday’s debate.

Meanwhile, committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev – absent from the session – decided to hold an additional discussion on the issue after the Knesset recess.

The area’s activists against the facilities – who collectively call themselves the Carmel-Menashe Struggle – will continue their efforts on Tuesday with a large demonstration in Jerusalem, the group said.

Liron Shapira, the head of the group, praised the committee members for their understanding of the ramifications of the decision to place the facilities in their territory.

“Today it has been shown that the full marine alternative has never been examined in depth,” Shapira said.

“The planning bodies must stop the process until they examine the full marine alternative – an examination that I am sure will show that this is a possible alternative, adopted with success around the world.”


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