'Gas pipeline delay taking financial and health toll'

National Infrastructures Ministry says each day costs economy NIS 1m. and forces Haifa residents to breathe more polluted air.

haifa 88 (photo credit: )
haifa 88
(photo credit: )
Each day the natural gas pipeline to Haifa is delayed costs the economy NIS 1m. and forces Haifa residents to breathe more polluted air from factories forced to use diesel instead, the National Infrastructures Ministry says, and Minister Uzi Landau urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to speedily resolve the issue. The project has come to a halt in the Tel Kashish area between Yokne'am and Kiryat Tivon on the way to the Haifa industrial area. The problem originated because the new pipeline has been planned to run through private Druse-owned land in the area. The Druse refused to allow the project to go forward unless changes were made to the route of the northern rail line planned for the area. The Druse demanded that in return for the train running in the center of the planned Road 6 extension, they would allow the natural gas pipeline to be built on their land. An agreement to that effect was worked out between the National Infrastructures Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, the Druse and the other relevant ministries earlier this year. However, when Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz assumed office, he ordered a return of the train to its original path. The matter was referred to the Prime Minister's Office to broker a deal, and last week Landau sent an urgent letter to Netanyahu asking him to address the matter. The Prime Minister's Office told The Jerusalem Post that "the topic of the infrastructures corridor in the area is under examination as to its legal and planning aspects. The issue is inter-ministerial in nature and we are working with all of the relevant parties to find a solution." The Transportation Ministry refused to delineate its objections to the original agreement saying only "The topic is being dealt with by the prime minister's office." Natural gas, while still a fossil fuel, pollutes the air far less than oil or diesel. Israel has been moving to increase its use of natural gas for electricity production in recent years. In addition to supplying Haifa's factories and oil refinery with natural gas, the gas is needed for two power stations set to go online in 2010. Every power station is critical for the steady supply of electricity since reserves are so low at present. Landau noted in his letter that one option was to find an alternative route for the pipeline, but that such a route could delay the project between 18-30 months. In an attempt to bring pressure to bear, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan also warned Haifa factory owners last week that he would not continue forever to give them a pass to burn oil or diesel instead of natural gas.