Building New Natural Gas Rig Off Israel's Shores Poses High Ecological Risks, Expert Warns

Flora, fauna and nature reserves stand to be harmed by Leviathan field off the Dor Beach coast, Prof. Rick Steiner says

Boat from the Allseas company laying an underwater gas pipeline to Dor Beach in July 2018.
Rami Shllush

One of the world’s leading experts on the environmental consequences of gas and oil pollution, Prof. Rick Steiner, is warning of the risks posed by erecting a platform only 10 kilometers from Dor Beach to process natural gas from the Leviathan gas field.

He argued that it isn’t too late to rethink the idea and instead operate a floating platform much closer to the drilling site, which lies over 100 kilometers further from shore.

Steiner spoke Monday at a press conference held by Shomrei Habayit (“Homeland Guards”) an organization representing residents of the Carmel shore region that is battling against the platform’s construction.

Steiner prepared a detailed report for Shomrei Habayit saying that operating the gas platform near the shore increases the likelihood of serious damage to the marine environment and the beach, should there be a malfunction or a hostile attack on the facility.

Steiner criticized the planning and decision-making process. He noted, among other things, that in important documents dealing with the environmental impact of the platform’s activity, large sections were redacted because Noble Energy, one of the partners operating Leviathan, claimed they contained trade secrets.

Steiner warned of the government’s overreliance on information provided by the industry, adding that there is a conflict of interest inherent in the role of the government, which benefits from the royalties and taxes on energy projects yet also must regulate the gas fields.

Steiner referred in his report to a malfunction that could cause a large amount of condensate – a toxic by-product of gas production – to leak. He stressed that there is no effective way to deal with contamination from this material.

Such contamination near the shore could lead to the material accumulating on the ocean floor, and it would harm nature reserves, the beaches and their flora and fauna.

The models that tried to assess the effect of the condensate leak near the coast did not take into account the worst-case scenario as required, Steiner said.

He thinks the risk to the marine environment could be reduced if the condensate leak took place on a floating platform at least 100 kilometers off the Israeli coast. The Leviathan field is 125 kilometers from the shore.

Steiner said that although the platform is under construction, the plan can still be changed. Noble Energy can sell the parts of the platform that are already built and rent a floating platform, he said, which may even speed up the process. The base of the platform is expected to reach Israel early next year, with the platform to be completed later in 2019.

The Leviathan consortium (which includes Noble Energy) commented: “It’s unfortunate to see how the campaign of deception and intimidation is continuing divorced from the facts. There is no other company in Israel that publicly presented work plans, analyses and documents on the scale presented by Noble Energy.”

The consortium stated that the redacted document in question is not related to the operation of the production rig, but rather to drilling at a distance of 120 kilometers from shore.

“In the environmental management plan approved by the Environmental Protection Ministry, which also appears on the internet, there is broad reference to the potential risk scenarios of a condensate leak,” it asserted.

“Regarding the platform,” the consortium added, “as every professional who is versed in gas and oil production knows, every platform is planned and built based on the specific characteristics of the field from which the oil is produced, including its location.”

Tamar natural gas rig off the coast of Haifa.
AP