Israel's Energy Ministry Launches PR Campaign to Win Over Natural Gas Critics

The campaign is designed to encourage Israeli industry to use natural gas and thus reduce costs and air pollution, the ministry says

Off Haifa coast, oil rig at enormous Leviathan natural gas field.
Albatross

The Energy Ministry is investing 7 million shekels ($2 million) in a PR campaign designed to win the public over to its side after suffering the wrath of social justice protesters and heavy criticism over the government’s natural gas policy.

The campaign was launched last week and will target opponents of the offshore gas policy. The initial message includes the slogan “Run and bury it deep in the ground” apparently a gibe at Israelis seeking to hinder the exploitation of the country’s abundant natural gas reserves discovered earlier in the decade.

On Sunday the ministry, whose full name is the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry, unveiled a video explaining the advantages of natural gas. But it also has other promotional material that has been described as targeting critics of the government’s policy.

In a statement, the ministry called the campaign “strategic” and said it was of “supreme importance to link the Israeli economy to natural gas.” The campaign, it said, was designed to encourage Israeli industry to use natural gas and thus reduce costs and air pollution.

The campaign would last a year, cost 6.95 million shekels and appear on billboards, television and the internet. 

A major focus of the government’s policy has been the development of the Leviathan offshore field, the largest in Israel’s economic waters. Leviathan, 100 kilometers (62 miles) off the coast of Haifa, was discovered in December 2010.

Texas-based Noble Energy owns 39.7 percent of Leviathan, while Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration, subsidiaries of Israel’s Delek Group, each hold 22.7 percent. Israel’s Ratio Oil holds 15 percent.

Although Leviathan is not yet producing gas, another sizable field called Tamar is. Noble Energy owns 39.7 percent; the rest is split among three Israeli partners including two subsidiaries of the Delek Group.

Critics have questioned, for example, the alleged high price that the Israel Electric Corporation is paying for natural gas used to generate electricity.

The timing of the campaign is no coincidence. In a report last week, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira criticized the government over the IEC’s contract for buying gas from Tamar. He said missteps had cost 8 billion shekels that would be passed on to the public in the form of higher electric bills.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who helped craft the country’s natural gas policy, was finance minister when the IEC’s contract was signed and did not seek to have it changed as energy minister.

Israel’s policy was designed to address the monopoly control of the gas reserves by Noble Energy and the Delek Group, but critics say it still left Noble with too much influence.

Sources at the ministry said opponents of government policy had garnered wide publicity and the ministry had not yet countered their arguments successfully.

With reporting by Reuters