Energy and Water Ministry publishes new environmental guidelines for onshore drilling

Updated guidelines seek to minimize hazards that can potentially arise during oil and gas drilling procedure.

Natural Gas Drilling521 (photo credit: Courtesy: Albatross Aerial photography/Nobel Energ)
Natural Gas Drilling521
(photo credit: Courtesy: Albatross Aerial photography/Nobel Energ)
In order to minimize hazards that can potentially arise during oil and gas drilling procedures, the Energy and Water Ministry has published an updated series of environmental guidelines for those involved in the onshore hydrocarbon industry.
Damage to the environment can occur at all stages of oil and natural gas drilling – in exploration, development and production, as well as after abandonment of wells, the Energy and Water Ministry said. Meanwhile, Israel presents a unique environment with a variety of geological formations, aquifers and diverse species, the ministry explained. Given these conditions, the regulations aim to make sure that work in this industry "will be carried out in the safest mode possible," and oil and gas developers must abide by them.
The environmental guidelines were originally published in February 2012 in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Ministry – after which, the drafted documents were open to public comment. While the set of guidelines issued for onshore drilling were prepared under the Petroleum Law and its regulations, the Energy and Water Ministry has also now made available updated environmental information for offshore drilling. Israeli environmental regulations do not legally apply to offshore drilling sites in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone, where many of the country's typical laws do not apply.
As part of the onshore environmental guidelines, as a condition for exploratory drilling, all developers must submit an application for approval accompanied by an "environmental document" authorized by planning and building bodies, to the District Committee for Planning and Building. This document must include an assessment of the probably environmental impacts of the drilling, and must be made available for examination by the Environmental Protection Ministry as well as other relevant bodies, the guidelines said.
Among the information that the environmental document must include is hydrological, geological, archeological and meteorological information about the desired drilling area, as well as air quality, transportation and noise that will potentially be generated by the drilling project, according to the guidelines. Meanwhile, the developer must present reasons why this site is the priority location and provide an analysis about the area's ecosystems, landscapes, residential proximity and overall sensitivity.
In addition, the environmental document should provide a description of all activity that could occur from the time of project implementation to its conclusion, and must suggest measure that will be undertaken to minimize and prevent adverse effects to the surrounding land, the guidelines said. Within areas where high air pollution levels have been documented or in which people have been declared victims of air pollution under the Clean Air Law, environmental restrictions on drilling projects will be particularly stringent, the guidelines warned.
In such areas, the Energy and Water Ministry may make a recommendation to not allow drilling, depending on the case. Moving on to the commercial development of a reservoir, the guidelines stress that before proceeding to this stage, the entrepreneurs must submit a detailed construction plan accompanied by an environmental impact survey.
Such a survey must be submitted to the relevant planning body and will also come under the review of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Petroleum Commissioner, the Agriculture Ministry, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Geological Survey of Israel and the Water Authority.
Like the "environmental document" prepared prior to exploratory drilling, the environmental impact survey must include a thorough review of the existing environment – including the area's hydrology, geology, archeology and meteorology, as well as the project's potential air quality, transportation and noise side effects, the guidelines said. Once again as well, the survey must include reasons for placing the project in this location as well as alternative sites.
Similarly, the survey also must describe all actions that could result from implementing the proposed plan, assess expected environmental effects and offer measures for preventing negative impact on the given region, the guidelines explained.
As far as offshore drilling in Israel's Exclusive Economic Zone is concerned, the Energy and Water Ministry "requires the preparation of environmental documentation that includes a program for monitoring the marine environment." All of these surveys and other documentation, submitted by the developers, is readily available on the ministry's website – with the most recent being an Environmental Monitoring Program: Pre-Drilling Survey for the Karish reservoir, submitted in April 2013.