Leviathan rig test a go, as temporary injunction lifted over environmental fears

Petitioners who wanted to stop the test on environmental grounds couldn’t disprove state’s affirmation of its safety.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Owners of the Leviathan natural gas field can perform a critical test of their offshore production rig, said the Jerusalem District Court on Thursday, dashing the hopes of six local councils that claimed it was environmentally unsafe.

In lifting the temporary injunction put on the trial run two days earlier, Judge Eli Abarbanel said that the petitioners had not provided professional evaluations to offset the governmental bodies that had ruled that it would not endanger their citizens’ health.

Leviathan is the largest natural gas field discovered off the coast of Israel, lying some 77 miles west of Haifa. It is estimated to have 22 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to make the country a gas exporter for the first time in its history, which will bring billions of shekels into state coffers.

As a critical national asset, then, the court will not move against it unless it sees solid proof that the start-up phase is a hazard to the populace.

The petitioners had claimed that more pollutants would be discharged into the air in an eight-hour test than the amount released in two years of commercial operation.

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Since the platform was built only six miles from the coast instead of close to the field itself, reportedly due to security concerns, environmentalists have long protested that emissions that contain poisonous elements and carcinogenic substances could all too easily reach Israel’s air.

Noble Energy, which has invested billions of dollars in Leviathan, says it is installing technology on the rig to prevent almost all emissions altogether. It “welcomed” the court’s ruling, saying that several regulatory bodies, including the ministries of energy and environmental protection, have subjected the project to “rigorous oversight.”

The rig test has to be performed before regular pumping of the natural gas can begin. Now that the injunction has been lifted, it will probably be performed next week. Activists have threatened to organize a mass march from the coast to Tel Aviv in protest.

Multibillion dollar contracts have already been signed with both Jordan and Egypt for this gas, and it is expected that it will start running to Israel’s neighbors early next year.