Tomer Rona - Yaron Kaminsky - 25102011
Tomer Rona, of the public protest against gas installation in the Acre area, trudging through the site of the old Electrochemical Industries ‏plant that could house a gas terminal. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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The Interior Ministry recently presented a list of alternative sites for establishing gas facilities, including in the Haifa Bay area and Acre, Hof Hacarmel and the southern Sharon. This follows last year's fight by Hof Hacarmel residents against plans to build the installations near their communities.

During the Sukkot holiday residents of the Acre area held informational and protest events against building the plants in their area. The opponents coordinated the activities of the protest headquarters that had already been set up in the Hof Hacarmel and Acre regions. They demonstrated near the sites up for discussion by the planning authorities, distributed pamphlets and erected placards, as did the original Hof Hacarmel protesters.

In addition, the opponents are also considering legal channels. They have already participated in a meeting at which the findings of the survey of alternatives were presented to representatives of the local councils. Another meeting, at which they will discuss the local councils' reservations, is scheduled at the Interior Ministry this week.

Two weeks ago, on behalf of the Interior Ministry, a professional team headed by planner Gidi Lerman presented the local authority representatives the findings of the examination of the alternative sites for the gas plants, conducted as part of a national master plan for natural gas treatment. Next month the findings will be presented to the general public for the first time at a Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel conference in Jerusalem on energy and the environment.

The new master plan will include the construction of facilities for treating gas discovered in recent years offshore from Israel. The treatment of the gas, after it is extracted by drilling into the seabed, entails a long series of actions including pressure reduction and processes to treat and clean the raw material. To that end industrial plants must be built.

In the wake of the demands from Hof Hacarmel residents and environmental organizations, alternatives for offshore installations to treat the gas are also under examination, as are combinations of offshore installations built on platforms and only small completion plants on land. Also under consideration is the construction of treatment plants on land, which could cover hundreds of dunams.

According to the planning team, it is necessary to further and more deeply examine a small number of highly suitable alternatives, on the basis of parameters such as distance from inhabited areas, effects on the environment and the extent of damage to the shoreline by pipes from the sea. Moreover, parameters such as the possibility of expanding the installation in the future and connecting it to the gas pipeline system are also under examination.

Some alternatives include the construction of land-based installations in the area of the Petroleum and Energy Infrastructures gas tanks in Haifa Bay, a site near Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk, and two sites in the Hof Hacarmel region. It has also been decided to examine sites of middling suitability in the areas of Hadera and Netanya.

Another site found to be highly suitable is the area south of Acre where the Electrochemical Industries (Frutarom ) plant used to be located. About three months ago TheMarker revealed that the gas companies also see this location as a preferred site, and have purchased the land.

The planning team has determined that it is necessary to set up two more connection points to the gas distribution pipeline, which will be north of Ashdod, and one of them should be north of Hadera. This, in order to supply gas to consumers in the north and prevent a situation in which a malfunction or damage as a result of a threat like rocket fire leads to a total cessation of the gas supply to Israel.

On this issue the planning team wrote in the report it prepared: "When we examine the location of the northern entry, it emerges that this should preferably be south of Haifa, since this location is beyond the range of most of Syria's and Hezbollah's arsenal of short-range rockets."

Rocket damage to the gas installations is one of the main factors that led to the residents' objection to constructing these plants. This, in addition to their concerns about the plants' effect on the landscape and pollution emissions as a result of the gas treatment processes.

"We are already in an area rife with environmental risks, and we object to adding more risk factors," says Tomer Rona, spokesman for the public protest against gas installation in the Acre area, in which the municipalities of Acre and Kiryat Motzkin are also partners. "It is necessary to oppose the establishment of installations on land not only here but at every other site on land, and to treat the gas in offshore installations. We do not want to be a strategic target. We already experienced that during the Second Lebanon War."

The Haifa municipality, too, is opposed to the alternative of the gas tank site that won high grades from the planning team. "We will oppose this vigorously because this is an area slated for the development of the city and the port," says Haifa municipality spokesman Tzachi Terano. "There is already a tank in the area containing the hazardous material ammonia, the very existence of which we object to. We invite the initiators of the master plan to take that away from here as well."

According to Tomer Meroz, a key activist at the struggle headquarters in the Hof Hacarmel area, one the main messages of the struggle is that the gas can be treated on large platforms in the sea, in areas less vulnerable to security risks. "It is also necessary to examine the possibility of a direct connection from the treatment plants to distribution pipelines in the sea, even though this is something that has not been tried in other places," he says. "On land it is possible to build installations on minimal area for purposes such as transitions between kinds of pipes. If this approach is accepted, it will be possible to examine more sites with less public objection."

There are field activists, among them Hanna Kuperman of Caesarea, who also object to the establishment of small installations on land. "Building gas infrastructures on land requires excavation and destruction of many beaches because of the necessity of installing delivery pipes in the ground," she points out. "Because of the tremendous quantities of gas that have been discovered, there is the danger that more and more infrastructures will be built and destroy more and more beaches."