Hof Hacarmel regional council residents, who have been waging a public campaign against plans to build on-shore natural gas treatment facilities in their area, may have seen their efforts bear some fruit. They reacted with cautious optimism over the weekend to news that the American energy company involved in extracting natural gas deposits in the area may shift its focus to existing terminals near Ashdod and Ashkelon.

The chairman and CEO of the U.S.-based Noble Energy announced late last week that the company would give higher priority to producing gas by way of infrastructure already in place. Noble Energy is a partner in Yitzhak Tshuva's subsidiary Tethys Sea, which operates a drilling platform off the coast of Ashkelon and a gas reception terminal in Ashdod.

Hof Hacarmel residents are hopeful Noble's change in position will render plans to build terminals near their communities unnecessary.

In recent months, the Tamar group - which includes a consortium of energy companies including Noble Energy and Tshuva's Delek Energy - has been touting a plan to tap into natural gas reserves discovered off the Haifa coast, promising investors, shareholders and the state they would succeed in producing natural gas in marketable quantities by 2012.

The Tamar group's plan, which included the construction of gas reception terminals near Caesarea, was met with immediate protest from residents and the local councils of Zichron Yaakov, Fureidis and Hof Hacarmel. They said the plan would cause environmental damage, harm the local tourism industry and offer an inviting military target in the event of a rocket attack against Israel.

Opponents of the terminal urged Tamar to examine the possibility of building platforms at sea. But the firms rejected this scenario, fearing it would delay their plans to produce gas by 2012.

Earlier this month, the National Planning and Building Committee instructed the companies to examine alternatives, forcing the group to make contingency plans.

After Hof Hacarmel residents alerted Noble Energy shareholders to their campaign, the shareholders began questioning the company's executives. At that point the company began exploring the option of using existing facilities in the south. The Tethys Sea rig off the coast of Ashkelon already provides a large portion of Israel's energy needs.