Israeli Court Delays Gas Rig Test as Locals Decry Threat of Pollutants

The Leviathan facility, whose lead partner is Houston-based Noble Energy, was scheduled to begin test operations this week and emit pollutants such as benzene, a carcinogen

The Leviathan natural gas field, January 2019.
Mark Israel Salam

The Jerusalem District Court granted a petition Tuesday to delay the test run of the Leviathan offshore natural gas rig, responding to concerns that the facility would douse areas south of Haifa with cancer-causing pollutants.

The rig, whose lead partner is Houston-based Noble Energy and is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) off the coast, was scheduled to begin test operations this week, which would emit large quantities of pollutants including benzene, a carcinogen.

Noble Energy received a permit from the Environmental Protection Ministry to emit pollutants, appalling many residents of the area, some of whom decided to leave before the test run.

Among the localities that filed the petition with environmental group Zalul were Zichron Yaakov and Pardes Hannah-Karkur. Their demand for a delay of the test run was based on the claim that Noble Energy’s permit was faulty and did not protect the public.

“The court’s ruling is a victory for the residents who have lost their faith in the state authorities to protect their health,” Zalul said in a statement. The group said huge forces were at work to conceal the situation, “above all the environment and energy ministers, who have chosen to side with the companies drilling for oil and gas instead of serving the public interest.”

They said the permit did not require the continuous monitoring of pollutants such as benzene, and that the tasking of Noble Energy with monitoring pollutants was a conflict of interest.

Judge Eli Abravanel added that the response by the Environmental Protection Ministry and Noble Energy to the petition lacked detail. The court has scheduled its next hearing on the matter for Sunday.

For its part, Noble Energy said that “the Leviathan partnership accepts the honorable court’s decision, is studying it and is preparing to channel gas from Leviathan as soon as possible.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry said it stands behind its decision to grant the permit; Minister Zeev Elkin visited the site recently and told local people they had nothing to fear about the test run.