Israeli Green groups reject proposed floating ammonia tank

Can an offshore vessel be the solution to the Haifa ammonia tank issue?

June 11, 2017 17:20
2 minute read.
Haifa Bay’s 12,000-ton ammonia tank

Haifa Bay’s 12,000-ton ammonia tank. (photo credit: MAX YELINSON/ MAARIV)


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Green groups slammed the idea of operating a floating ammonia vessel off the coast of Haifa, after the Environmental Protection Ministry officials said on Sunday they were considering approving such infrastructure.

This type of ship, which would be able to hold 2,500 tons of ammonia, was among the options Haifa Chemicals proposed to replace its 12,000- ton onshore ammonia tank in the short-term. After years of legal disputes over the tank’s threat to the Haifa region’s safety, the High Court of Justice recently confirmed that the facility must be emptied by July 31.

While environmentalists have long dubbed the tank a “ticking time bomb,” the facility began to attract international attention last year, when Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack it. Ammonia, widely used in industrial refrigeration and fertilizer production, is a highly toxic gas when exposed to air.

In 2013, the government decided that the Haifa Port storage tank must eventually be shut down and transferred to an unpopulated area of the Negev Desert. Yet in November 2016, the tendering process for that step failed. As the tank’s closure date approaches, the government has been examining other options to ensure the country’s ammonia supply.

After reviewing a set of alternatives proposed by Haifa Chemicals, Environmental Protection Ministry officials said on Sunday that a small ammonia vessel would meet the country’s short-term needs.

Unlike the onshore tank, which can supply ammonia at the rate of 500 tons per hour, an offshore vessel would only be able to provide 100-200 tons hourly, the ministry said.

This reduction in supply “is in line with the ministry’s policy and significantly reduces the risk in comparison to the prevailing situation in which the ammonia tank was working.”

Subject to additional legal examinations, statutory authorizations and approvals of other government bodies, the ministry said that it would be considering the vessel’s approval.

In response, the Zalul Environmental Association demanded that the ministry publish the data that led to this announcement, in order to “prevent the exchange of one hazard for another” and to ensure the safety of residents and workers.

“The proposed solution means no more than duplicating the on-shore tank in the sea, without addressing the security and safety problems of the presence of an ammonia reservoir near a population center,” a statement from Zalul said.

MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union), who chairs the Knesset’s Caucus for the Residents of Haifa Bay, likewise stressed that the proposed solution would replicate the existing problem.

“At this juncture, there is no solution to the security threat from Hezbollah, but there is deception, disrespect for the intelligence of the residents and contempt for human life,” she said. “I demand that the ministry withdraw this delusional declaration and find a solution that will take into account the residents of the Haifa Bay area.”

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