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Israeli Tycoon's Win Is a Huge Loss for Planet Earth

To stop the energy industry from leading us to disaster, we must question the public legitimacy of its business in this age of climate crisis

Jonathan Aikhenbaum
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Yitzhak Tshuva at the Tamar natural gas field.
Yitzhak Tshuva at the Tamar natural gas field.Credit: Moshe Benjamin
Jonathan Aikhenbaum

The finalization of the major deal by Yitzhak Tshuva and the Delek Group with energy giant Chevron in the North Sea strengthens his position as a significant international player, with activity in the oil and gas industry in the eastern Mediterranean, the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Despite growing concern over the climate crisis, media coverage of the deal focused solely on its financial aspects, on how the financing was obtained and the potential profits, while ignoring the impact of fossil fuel production on the Earth’s climate and how the deal will affect efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the Delek-Chevron deal, Tshuva reportedly acquired proven and probable reserves of 131 million barrels of oil north of Britain. This amounts to production of 60,000 barrels daily. A quick calculation shows what this means in terms of greenhouse gas emissions: One barrel of oil contains enough carbon to produce nearly half a ton of carbon dioxide when burned. This means that Tshuva acquired an operation that will produce nearly 10 million tons of greenhouse gases per year (equivalent to 12 percent of Israel’s annual emissions), and he soon intends to increase its output by 30 percent.

Sound like a lot? We’re just getting started. In total, Tshuva owns reserves that produce 168,000 barrels of oil and natural gas a day (60,000 by Chevron, 21,000 at another North Sea field, 58,000 in the Leviathan field off Israel’s Mediterranean coast and 29,400 from Tamar). Together, they produce 72,000 tons of greenhouse gases a day, or more than 21 million tons a year — around one-third of Israel’s total emissions.

If we look at the overall potential of the reserves — the total amount of oil and gas available to him — we find that the impact is even more significant. In total, Tshuva’s fossil fuel reservoirs in the North Sea and the eastern Mediterranean contain 630 million tons of carbon dioxide. Add to that Delek Group’s operations in the Gulf of Mexico and we get to 800 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the annual emissions of the world’s sixth-largest country (after Japan and in place of Germany). In other words, his reservoirs have the potential to emit greenhouse gases equivalent to 2 percent of humanity’s daily greenhouse gas emissions and 10 times that of Israel’s annual emissions. In a world in such desperate need of immediate, ambitious and serious measures on behalf of the climate, the clear public interest (in the long term, at least) is for Tshuva’s business ambitions to be buried in the ground along with his gas and oil.

A reminder: Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change — stated in its “1.5 Degree Report” that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 and should be down to zero emissions by 2050 to keep Earth from warming more than 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial age and to prevent a dramatic worsening of extreme climate events of the type we have already been experiencing, such as heat waves, fires, hurricanes, floods and droughts.

A report published just weeks ago found that just 20 energy companies are responsible for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. Each one of these companies is hugely profitable and employs armies of lobbyists to sabotage any move designed to improve the state of the planet. All in all, the production and burning of coal, gas and oil is responsible for about two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. So it doesn’t really matter how much we promote “sustainable consumer behavior” – responsibility for the climate crisis lies first and foremost with the fossil fuel industry, the industry in which Tshuva is forging a path to becoming a major player.

The light at the end of the tunnel of this crisis is that there are known solutions and we know who must change their path in order to contend with the tremendous challenge now faced by humanity. With the completion of the Chevron deal and a carbon footprint equivalent to a third of Israel’s annual emissions, it’s clear that Tshuva is one of those people who will have to switch the direction of his business conduct.

Unfortunately, there is no doubt as to the direction in which he is currently marching and what his priorities are.

In order to stop Tshuva and the energy industry as a whole from leading us to disaster, we must absolutely question the public legitimacy of their business activity in this age of climate crisis. This should be the basis for ensuring that in the future our pension funds and savings accounts don’t go towards funding the problem but rather toward solutions in the form of renewable energies and storage technologies, which is where the future lies for all of us.

Jonathan Aikhenbaum is director of research and strategy for Greenpeace Israel.

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