In blow to environmentalists, Israel clears way for offshore gas

Production at Leviathan offshore gas field set to start on Monday despite pollution concerns.

    An Israeli court lifted a temporary injunction on production at a Leviathan offshore gas well that had been granted over environmental impact concerns [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]
    An Israeli court lifted a temporary injunction on production at a Leviathan offshore gas well that had been granted over environmental impact concerns [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]

    In a major blow to Israeli environmentalists and climate activists, Israel's energy ministry gave its final approval for the start of production at the giant Leviathan offshore gas field.

    Officials said the wells will open early on Monday after an Israeli court lifted a temporary injunction granted over environmental impact concerns.

    Rescinding Tuesday's injunction, the Jerusalem District Court said on Thursday that appellants had not provided sufficient evidence that Leviathan's emissions, in the gas field's startup phase, could prove dangerous. It also cited reassurances provided by government representatives about precautions taken at the site.

    However, the court left open the possibility of a further hearing on the issue.

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    "The Leviathan partners welcome the court's decision to lift the temporary restraining order and allow us to begin flowing gas from the Leviathan reservoir," the partners said in a statement.

    The Energy Ministry said the wells will open on Monday midnight GMT and the natural gas will reach the pipeline 13 hours later. For a number of hours, there will be limited emissions of nitrogen and then nitrogen mixed with gas, the ministry said.

    "Based on experts' estimates and models acceptable in the world, the change in air quality ... is expected to be small," the ministry said in a statement.

    On Tuesday, the Jerusalem court, in a surprise decision, issued a temporary order that barred any gas emissions from Leviathan, effectively putting the project, which was due to come online this month, on hold.

    The companies, led by Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel's Delek Drilling, have already signed major, multibillion-dollar deals for exports to Egypt and Jordan.

    The field was discovered a decade ago about 120km (75 miles) off Israel's coast. But its towering production platform was constructed just 10km from the shore.

    Environmental activists and municipalities located near where the pipeline comes ashore had tried unsuccessfully - including at the country's Supreme Court - to block the plan and force the structure to be built further out at sea.

    The latest petition to halt the process was brought by several municipalities and an environmental group against the project's operator, Noble, and Israel's Ministry of Environmental Protection.

    "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 Leviathan partners said.  

    Israel cleared the way to become an energy exporter for the first time on Monday after the government signed a permit approving the supply of natural gas from Leviathan field to Egypt Gas from another offshore field, Tamar, which is also set to supply Egypt's growing demand for energy.

    The natural gas bound for Egypt is intended for domestic consumption and for liquifaction for export to other markets, potentially giving the deal strategic resonance beyond the two countries.

    The European Union, which is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, has encouraged the formation of new delivery routes, including through the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency