Leviathan gas field receives final approval hours before operation begins

The Leviathan natural gas field received final approval from the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Monday night just four hours before operations, even though the ministry promised to provide sufficient warning beforehand to give local residents time to prepare, according to Israeli business daily Calcalist.The ministry stated that Noble Energy, the operator of the Leviathan gas platform, has held up to all required conditions.According to the ministry, the announcement is just a continuation of a prior announcement on Friday that was made “conditionally,” and that’s why the start of operations is happening tomorrow as planned.There are no special directives for civilians, the ministry stressed, and any effect on the air quality in the area should be negligible, according to Calcalist. The ministry added that there are no directives at all to evacuate residents and that all experts agree that there will be no danger to the public.Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, the director of the ministry and ministry officials will be present along the shore in the area, monitoring stations and at the Noble Energy control center.”We recommend that the public download the application ‘SvivaAIR‘ and to update in real time on the results of monitoring stations that show the status of air quality in the area,” said the ministry.According to Calcalist, the ministry’s earlier announcement that was made conditionally about the start of operations was not a valid notification to the public.Requests by the business daily for clarification about the ministry’s failure to notify residents ahead of time, remained unanswered as of Monday night.Operations at the Leviathan gas field will start at 2:00 a.m. Israel time. Five hours later, different pollutants will come out of the gas pipes after it arrives to the gas platform. During the up to eight hour process, the carcinogenic gas benzene will be released in amounts that are usually only permitted over a period of one year and three months. Other polluting gases will be released at levels permissible over a period of two and a half years.At least seven schools in the area will be closed on Tuesday in protest and a number of doctors from the area have said that they will avoid being in the area on Tuesday to avoid risks.The partners behind the offshore energy project announced on Friday that the final stage of testing at the Leviathan natural gas platform had been rescheduled for Tuesday morning.The Leviathan platform has had the final stage of testing delayed multiple times.Last week, shortly before the platform was the ministry said it had not been satisfied by measures to sample and monitor pollution at the rig and along the coast during the final testing procedure.Despite environmental groups and local residents opposing the test, arguing that it will significantly increase air pollution along the nearby coastline, the project partners emphasized on Friday that “activities carried out on the platform do not impact routine life.”The Homeland Guards environmental group, which has spearheaded opposition to the establishment of the platform, criticized the timing of the rescheduled test and called on local residents to leave their homes and join a protest in central Tel Aviv on Tuesday.The Leviathan reservoir, one of the largest natural gas fields discovered worldwide in the last decade, is thought to contain up to 605 billion cu.m. (bcm) of natural gas, equivalent to 65 years of domestic gas consumption. Following the conclusion of commissioning tests, the platform is due to pump gas to Israel’s domestic market, as well as to Egypt and Jordan.Eytan Halon contributed to this report.