‘We’re in favor of gas – just not in our backyards’

Residents of Emek Hefer and Carmel regions protest future processing facilities for offshore natural gas.

Protest against natural gas treatment site 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Protest against natural gas treatment site 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Holding homemade banners featuring a welter of slogans like “Don’t Play With Fire!” and “Carmel Doesn’t Need a Second Disaster,” residents of the Carmel and Emek Hefer region on Tuesday protested the planned construction of natural gas treatment sites in their midst.
“We are for gas, completely,” said Yoni Ari, director of the “Gas to the Sea” protest movement. “We just want it treated out at sea.”
Bearing signs and beating drums, some 250 demonstrators from the region packed the plaza outside the Energy and Water Ministry’s Jerusalem offices on Tuesday morning.
The protest followed last week’s heated Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee meeting, during which MKs Isaac Herzog (Labor) and Dov Henin (Hadash) questioned the need to build refining stations onshore, at Hagit in the Megiddo region and a second facility in Emek Hefer.
Gas is slated to flow into the refining facilities from the approximately 535-billioncubic- meter Leviathan reservoir 130 km. west of Haifa – which should come online within a few years. Natural gas from the adjacent 282-b.cu.m. Tamar reservoir 80 km. west of Haifa, which is already online, undergoes treatment processes both at sea and onshore in Ashdod.
In front of the Energy Ministry on Tuesday, Ari slammed government officials for their wavering opinions on the issue and criticized Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom for refusing to meet with residents.
“Despite meeting dozens of times with the tycoons, the folks from Noble Energy, he’s refused to meet with us even once,” Ari told The Jerusalem Post. “But the reality is that building offshore is good both for Israel’s citizens and for its energy independence.”
Stressing that “gas is no joke,” Ari warned that placing the facilities within a kilometer of populated areas could have bad consequences.
“We won’t just accept it,” he said. “We’ll lie down in from of the tires of the tractors that come to dig if that’s what it takes to stop them.”
Manning a loudspeaker at the center of the crowd, Odelia Banai of Emek Hefer spoke on a similarly grave note.
“I think it’s outrageous that the government wants to build gas refineries in the middle of Emek Hefer,” she told the Post.
“I’m scared for my life, my children’s lives, my home. Everything. It’s insane. At some level, everyone in the community talks about it.”
Yotam Shadmon, a resident of Kibbutz Hama’apil, who spoke as he carried his daughter on his shoulders, dismissed government plans as harmful in several respects.
“They’re trying to build a refining station quite close to my home. It’s polluting and it’s dangerous,” he said. “But it’s a security threat, too. They’re planning to lay the pipes in exactly the narrowest part of the country, between Tulkarm [in the Palestinian Authority] and the sea. One explosion could cut the country in half.”
Shadmon praised the “Gas To the Sea” movement’s organizing approach, drawing attention to its emphasis on collaboration between Carmel and Emek Hefer residents.
“Nobody wants to push gas facilities onto the other. We both want to push them out to sea,” he quipped.
During the Knesset discussion last week, Henin and Herzog asked that the committee examine the placement of the gas processing sites, and committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) committed to holding an additional discussion on the subject after the Knesset recess.
In response to the uproar last week, Bini Zomer, director of corporate affairs at Noble Energy – the largest stakeholder in the Tamar and Leviathan projects – told the Post that carrying out at least some treatment onshore is logistically necessary.
Although initial treatment can take place on a rig at sea, when the gas travels to the shore through undersea pipelines, the pressure is reduced, causing condensate, a low-density mixture of hydrocarbon liquids, to separate from the gas, and necessitating additional drying treatment onshore, he explained. This process requires absolutely no refining and generates zero emissions, Zomer said.
Following Tuesday’s demonstration, the Energy and Water Ministry said that “the issue is currently in planning processes and a decision about the location of the facilities is under the jurisdiction of the National Council for Planning and Building” – in the Interior Ministry.
Encouraged by the recent Knesset efforts to address their concerns, however, demonstrators continued to aim defiant words at what they suggested is an unresponsive Energy Ministry.
“Silvan Shalom needs to wake up,” Ari said. “He needs to choose what’s more important – the tycoons, or the safety of the Israeli people.”
Protester Ofelia Banai shrugged, unsure of whether there was any chance to persuade the government.
“But one must hope. We can’t give up, because our lives are at stake here,” she said.