Government halts Leviathan operations 9 hours before start

The ministry instructed Noble Energy to give the public two days notice ahead of the rescheduled start of operations.

THE LEVIATHAN jacket. (photo credit: ALBATROSS)
(photo credit: ALBATROSS)
After residents of the HaCarmel Beach area threatened to leave their homes in protest of the potential air pollution that could be caused by the Leviathan natural gas platform and nine hours before the start of operations, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced on Monday that it would not let Noble Energy operate the platform because it did not meet all the requirements and conditions that were placed on the company.
The ministry instructed Noble Energy to complete all the missing requirements by the next start date and to give the public two days notice ahead of the rescheduled start of operations. The company will need to get approval from the ministry before starting operations. A sampling and monitoring program during operations has not been approved by the ministry, as they are not satisfied with the calibration and quality control reports submitted pertaining to the analysis instruments on the rig for the inspection of gas composition.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection added that it still believes that Leviathan's operations won't pose any danger to public health.
"The gas from Leviathan waited a long time to come out of the ground and this will happen quickly. We were very surprised and saddened to hear about the decision by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Noble Energy strictly adheres to all permits and approvals that were granted to it and that received approval from the different courts," said the Leviathan partners in response.
"The Ministry of Environmental Protection asked for additional validation of the analysis instrument beyond the existing one and Nobel is working to transfer this information to the ministry. The Leviathan partners are excited, ready and alert for the production of natural gas and Israel's transformation into an energy superpower," said the partners.
The final stage of testing at the offshore Leviathan natural gas platform was supposed to begin on Tuesday, according to instructions issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection to operator Noble Energy on Friday.
While Noble applied for approval to start the delayed test on Monday, the ministry stated the company had failed to give the public two working days’ notice ahead of the operation as required, and can therefore only proceed the following day at the earliest.
Anchored to the sea bed 10 km. from Israel’s Mediterranean coast, the Leviathan platform is currently approaching the conclusion of a series of commissioning tests before starting to pump gas to Israel’s domestic market later this month, and subsequently to Egypt and Jordan.
Since the discovery of the Leviathan gas field in 2010, Noble Energy and partners Delek Drilling and Ratio Oil Exploration have invested $3.75b. in the project. One of the largest natural gas fields discovered worldwide in the last decade, the Leviathan reservoir is expected to contain up to 605 billion cu.m. of natural gas, equivalent to 65 years of domestic gas consumption.
“The Ministry of Environmental Protection has reviewed the company’s plans for the trial period,” the ministry said in a statement. “The findings showed that exceptional benzine levels are not expected along the coastline, particularly on significant test dates.”
During the testing period, representatives from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Energy will be present on both the platform and the beach to monitor pollution levels. Concentrations of pollutants along the coast will be continuously monitored, said the ministries, adding the test will be stopped in the “unlikely event” of a real-time increase in air pollution.
On Thursday, a Jerusalem District Court canceled a temporary injunction issued against the test one day before, which had briefly prevented Noble Energy from conducting “operations involving gas emissions” at the gas field. The injunction followed an application submitted by five municipalities and the Zalul Environmental Association earlier in the week, claiming the test would result in harmful quantities of pollutant emissions.
“The Leviathan project has been subject to rigorous oversight by the ministries of energy and environmental protection and various other regulatory bodies,” said the Leviathan project partners in a statement following the court’s decision.
“We are proud of this world-class project which is poised to deliver natural gas for the benefit of Israel’s citizens and the region. The natural gas from Leviathan will improve Israel’s air quality by displacing coal, improve Israel’s environment, provide security of supply and create unprecedented commercial ties in the region.”
The Energy Ministry granted final approval for the first flow of gas from the Leviathan platform following the decision.
“A decade after the discovery of one of Israel’s largest natural treasures, the Leviathan reservoir, natural gas will start flowing from it to the shore,” said Steinitz.
“This is a historic day in the State of Israel, a significant milestone in the implementation of the natural gas framework, which will enable the conversion of power plants to use natural gas to reduce air pollution, and transform the State of Israel into a gas superpower with gas exports to Egypt and Jordan.”
Natural gas from the reservoir will be transmitted through two 120 km. underwater pipelines directly to the Leviathan platform, where it will be processed prior to flowing through a northern entry pipeline connected to the Israel Natural Gas Lines (INGL) national gas transmission system.
Tzvi Joffre and Eytan Halon contributed to this article.