Bill to Regulate Israel's Economic Waters Stirs Environmental Controversy

Proposed law presents a conflict of interests and does not provide adequate marine protection, critics say.

Drilling for gas at the Israel's Tamar reservoir in 2012.
Albatross Aerial Photograph

The Justice Ministry has been developing a law for regulating the designation of marine regions, in order to determine legal status of areas that lie outside Israel’s sovereign waters and in which opportunities exist for exploitation of natural resources.

The Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and the Environmental Protection Ministry claim that the proposed law does not afford sufficient protection to the environment against development projects, including oil and gas drilling, and fishing.

The bill, whose final version is being prepared, states that Israeli law will apply beyond its territorial waters and as such the area will be covered by national labor laws and laws pertaining to environmental protection and the extraction of natural resources.

With regard to environmental protection, the new law states that the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry will be authorized to demand documents ensuring that the environmental impact of drilling is monitored, as well as advising on rehabilitation of areas that are damaged by such activities. The interior minister will be authorized to demarcate special areas in which nature will be protected, similar to protected areas on land. These areas will be regulated by the Finance Ministry's planning authority.

SPNI director Iris Hahn sent a letter last week to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked sharply criticizing the bill. Hahn argues that the Energy Ministry will have almost total authority over decisions relating to environmental impact whereas the Environmental Protection Ministry will be relegated to an advisory role. This will in practice will give an advantage to a ministry that has an interest in encouraging developers.

Hahn added that, unlike to regulations that exist for shoreline environments and which apply to territorial waters, the bill does not determine what constitutes environmental damage at sea. The bill also revokes many of the responsibilities that are under the jurisdiction of the Nature and Parks Authority. The authority’s power is subjugated to documents which have not yet been produced and are thus unclear.

The Justice Ministry stated that it was examining Hahn’s letter. The Environmental Protection Ministry that while there were positive aspects to the bill, such as its regulation of environmental laws in drilling areas, the new provisions give insufficient protection and present the Energy Ministry with a possible conflict of interests.