The Tamar drilling rig in the Mediterranean.
The Tamar drilling rig in the Mediterranean. Photo by Itai Trilnick
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The cabinet Sunday voted unanimously to approve a plan that would streamline the approval process for installation of gas-transportation facilities along the Mediterranean coast. The plan has sparked opposition from several coastal communities where residents do not want facilities for pumping liquefied natural gas built in their vicinity. The location of the four sites is to be decided by September 2013.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed criticism at the cabinet meeting with delays in the pipeline project.

The debate comes as the Israel Electric Corporation is wrestling with the cutoff of its main supplies of gas for generating electricity, which it used to receive from Egypt. Efforts to draw up a new contract for receiving natural gas from the Tamar exploration site, off the Israeli coast, have raised questions over the price the IEC is willing to pay and the costs that would ultimately fall on the local consumer.

For his part, Ron Nachman, the head of the Petroleum Council - a branch of the Energy and Water Resources Ministry - warned over the weekend about the implications of reconsidering the contract between the Tamar gas partnership and the IEC, as demanded by the Public Utility Authority (Electricity ).

Nachman sent a letter to the ministers of finance, energy and environmental protection, stating that reevaluation of the contract with Tamar, would bring about, in his words, the "collapse" of drilling at the site. He said he based his view on an assessment presented to the Petroleum Council last week.

Nachman, also mayor of the West Bank settlement of Ariel, declined to tell TheMarker who provided the assessment, adding that he sent the warning of his own accord.

Last month the Public Utility Authority demanded that the contract be reconsidered after it received a consultant's report that questioned the high price the IEC had agreed to pay for the gas from Tamar.

When asked by TheMarker why the Petroleum Council, which is responsible for licensing exploration and drilling activities, would get involved in a commercial contract between the Tamar partnership and the IEC, Nachman said: "I am not getting into the commercial aspects. Every regulatory agency is to act in accordance with its own authority. My role is to do everything so that Israel gets inexpensive energy, and in my judgment, the recent process does no good to Israel's reputation among foreign firms."

The Tamar partnership includes Texas-based Noble Energy.

"Such a process should not take so much time," Nachman said. "We're talking about huge sums of investment. Israel needs to decide if it wants to get energy."

Referring to the Tamar partnership and the IEC, he added: "Two monopolies sat and wrapped up the transaction. The antitrust and electricity authorities and the Environmental Protection Ministry can examine it, but they should set a deadline."