A natural gas drilling rig
A natural gas drilling rig. Photo by Bloomberg
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The mayors of Haifa and Hadera are among more than a dozen municipal officials going head to head with Israel's largest environmental group over the government's bid to expedite development of land-based natural gas facilities, which the mayors say could threaten the country's security and ecology.

Though environmental groups typically support campaigns against facilities thought to cause ecological harm, this time the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is on the side of the land-based, rather than offshore, processing plants supported by the government. SPNI says the use of natural gas reduces certain kinds of air pollution by between 80 percent and 90 percent, compared with oil and coal, and asked zoning boards yesterday to consider allowing the government to build the plants on land.

"Natural gas is a hydrocarbon gas mixture cleaner than coal or other fuels," SPNI wrote in a letter to all local planning and building committees. "Also, the land area required for the various technologies connected to natural gas is relatively small, compared to land spaces needed, for instance, to develop renewable sources such as solar energy."

A source involved in natural gas development said offshore processing also has its risks.

"Israel has discovered a large natural gas reserve, and it cannot limit the handling of it to the sea, since such seaborne equipment is unproven," the source said. "Also, facilities operated at sea also pose environmental dangers."

The National Planning and Building Council is scheduled to hold a discussion today regarding a long-range plan for natural gas processing plants that would process some of the gas discovered at the large Tamar offshore gas field.

The council is expected to recommend a thorough review of several possible locations, including in Hadera, Emek Hefer, Hof Hacarmel, and a site east of Zichron Yaakov. There are some other possibilities, but they are considered to be less feasible.

Over the last few days, 15 top local government officials, and many average citizens, have been calling on the government to build the natural gas facilities offshore.

In a country with such a narrow coastline, they say, land-based natural gas plants could cause ecological disasters, either because of malfunctions or because they are targeted in wartime. They want the natural gas to be processed at offshore drilling stations, as Denmark and Malaysia do, with the gas brought to land through pipelines.

But SPNI says the number of land-based options under consideration should be limited, in an effort to expedite the process of examining prospective locations.

"The state should have the planning flexibility needed to find sufficient land spaces for these facilities," the environmental group said in its letter yesterday. "We should prepare for the collection of natural gas at two land-based facilities; one such facility should be established in the near future. While this plan is being promoted, there must also be ecological surveys that reduce [the threat of environmental damage]. The public should also be invited to cooperate with these planning processes."