The last of two public hearings on the government’s framework agreement for dealing with the natural gas cartel deteriorated into pandemonium, prompting the Energy Ministry to cut off a live webcast of the proceedings as social activists were speaking.
The broadcast was cut off after Yossi Dorfman, spokesman for the activist group Campaign for a Fair Gas Agreement, got into an loud argument with Eugene Kandel, chairman of the National Economic Council and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s point man on the framework agreement.
Earlier in the hearing, Dorfman had used his allotted time to name government officials responsible for energy policy who had gone on to take jobs with natural gas companies, in particular Yitzhak Tshuva’s Delek Group, which holds stakes in the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields.
He ended his remarks with a warning that if anyone on the government negotiating team that reached the framework with the gas companies took a job with one of the companies he would file a complaint with the police.
Asked by Uri Schwartz, the legal adviser to the Antitrust Commission, why he wasn’t addressing the issue of the framework, Dorfman responded that since the government had already declared it would bring the agreement to cabinet and Knesset for approval next week, the hearings were pointless.
When a second activist, Ori-Li Barlev, began speaking, the argument between Dorfman and Kanel exploded. “Except for the names you mentioned, nothing you said was true,” said Kandel, starting out a shouting match, prompting the halting of the webcast. The Energy Ministry said it stopped the webcast because the fair Gas Agreement speakers spoke over their allotted time.
The government was ordered by the High Court of Justice to hold two days of hearings before it moves to seek approval of the framework, which has aroused opposition for what critics say is its failure to break up the gas cartel. Delek, along with the U.S. company Noble Energy, control both Tamar and Leviathan, which hold the lion’s share of Israel gas reserves.
Meanwhile Yigal Landau, who controls Ratio, one of the smaller gas companies, said he doubted the Leviathan partners would be able to meet the August 2019 deadline to develop the field. He said the framework discriminated against Leviathan, in which Ratio has a 15% stake, in favor of Tamar, which will be able to capture two thirds of the domestic market before Leviathan can go on line.
Moshe Shahal, a former energy minister and now a major player in the energy market, said gas prices could be cut to below $5 per million British thermal units (Btu) from a $5.40 ceiling now. “Is it possible? The answer is yes. You need to know how to negotiate. The gas companies want to improve their image,” he said, urging a professional committee to tackle the issue.
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