Israeli Court Allows Leviathan Gas Rig to Run Test Emitting Cancerous Pollutants

Drilling, which was supposed to commence on Tuesday, is expected to emit large quantities of pollutants including benzene, a carcinogen

The Leviathan natural gas field, January 2019.
Marc Israel Sellem

An Israeli court overturned Thursday the temporary interim order that halted the test run drilling at the Leviathan natural gas field off the coast of Haifa.

The drilling, which was supposed to commence on Tuesday, is expected to emit large quantities of pollutants including benzene, a carcinogen.

The natural gas rig, whose lead partner is Houston-based Noble Energy, is located ten kilometers off Israel's northern communities pertaining to Hof Hacarmel Regional Council. 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.

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

The Zalul Environmental Association and a number of local councils, including the Zichron Yaakov and Pardes Hannah-Karkur local councils, petitioned the court to cancel the drilling.

The petitioners claimed the permit granted by the Environmental Protection Ministry to operate the gas rig was flawed and its conditions would not protect the public properly.

Opponents claimed that the permit doesn't require the continuous monitoring of pollutants such as benzene, but only periodic monitoring, which the petitioners say isn't enough.

They added that Noble Energy cannot be trusted with monitoring pollutants because it puts the company in a conflict of interest since monitoring excessive emission of pollutants would require it to stop production.  

When issuing the temporary injunction on Tuesday, Jerusalem District Court Judge Eli Abravanel ruled that the response of the Environmental Protection Ministry and Noble Energy to the petition weren't elaborated enough, only providing partial information.

“Since the plaintiffs’ claims that delaying the decision on the petition might cause irreversible damage to public health were not rebutted a temporary order is issued, according to which the respondents will avoid any activity involving the emission of gas, and the permit [to drill will be frozen]," Abravanel said.