Activists Urge Mass Evacuation as Israeli Gas Rig to Emit Tons of Pollutants in a Single Day

Environmental Protection Ministry says Carmel coast residents not in danger, but environmental group argues 'the government is betraying its citizens'

Zafrir Rinat
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Foundation platform for the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, January 31, 2019.
Foundation platform for the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, January 31, 2019.Credit: Marc Israel SELLEM / POOL / AFP
Zafrir Rinat

Dozens of tons of pollutants will be emitted into the air off Israel's shore next week, as the first two of four wells in the Leviathan drilling platform will be opened as gas will start flowing to the treatment rig, about 10 kilometers at sea.

Residents of the Carmel coast area opposite the drilling platform have expressed concern of the health effects of this large-scale pollution by benzene and other hazardous pollutants, but the Environmental Protection Ministry insists that the platform will not exceed regulated emissions levels.

According to the most recent update by Noble Energy, the activity is due to take place on Tuesday, December 17. The company says the pollution emission to the shore will be minuscule, at a rate that does not exceed 3.5 percent of the permitted level of benzene emission. This estimate is based on a pollutant diffusion model.

But Shomrei Habayit, an environemntal group that opposes the rig's activity over what it says are its harmful effects, has over the past weeks urged local residents in the Dor Beach area to leave their homes for that day.

The organization’s claim that the pollution poses a health risk has been backed up by Dr. Micha Barhana, a public health expert and former director of the National Cancer Registry at the Health Ministry.

Barhana said he stands by his earlier assessment that the Leviathan rig does not pose a health risk with its normal activity. However, he does believe that the running of the treatment rig will cause large quantities of pollutants to be emitted within a very brief time frame, and that the winds could carry them to the shore in high concentrations. He says the pollutant diffusion model cannot predict a sudden gust of wind that could reach the area where the sea meets the shore. He therefore recommends that residents who could be affected by the pollution be given clear and adequate warning so that they can organize to evacuate their homes during that time.

Shomrei Habayit chairman Yoni Sapir says, “the expert opinion illustrates the system-wide bankruptcy of the government and the authorities.” He argues, “the government is betraying its citizens, either knowingly or by negligence. This opinion is a harsh indictment of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Health Ministry and the other authorities that are abandoning the public to poisoning on a vast scale."

Guy Samet, director general of the Environmental Protection Ministry, says that ministry assessed the pollution emissions from the rig based on a model that also took into account the conditions where the sea meets the shore, and it indicated “there would be an extremely small increase in the concentrations of benzene.”

Samet says the increase will be “so small that we won’t even be able to say with certainty that it is actually related to the running of the rig. And if we find that there is any deviation from the permitted levels, we will halt the running activity.” He says the ministry has six pollution monitoring stations in the area, and the ministry will also post people in the field on the date of the activity. He added, “According to the logic of those who are attacking us, all the residents of Tel Aviv and other cities should be evacuated because the benzene levels there are much higher than those in the Carmel coastal area. Needlessly frightening the public only hurts the credibility of the environmental cause."

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