After 7 years of operation, Tamar gas rig finally gets emissions license

Also, 4 years after finding that rig was spewing as much carcinogenic material as 570 large industrial plants, environment ministry lauds Texas-based company for reducing pollution

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

An aerial view of the Tamar gas-processing rig off the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, June 23, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An aerial view of the Tamar gas-processing rig off the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, June 23, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

After seven years of operation, the Tamar natural gas rig off Israel’s Mediterranean coast finally has an emissions permit.

The delay is due to confusion in the early years of the rig’s operation over the applicability of the Clean Air Act, given its location outside of Israel’s territorial waters, some 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) off the shore of Ashkelon in southern Israel.

The platform began to operate in 2013 without pollution regulations. Then, data for 2016 published by the Environmental Protection Ministry in November 2017 revealed that emissions “known or suspected to be carcinogenic” equaled the total of such emissions from 570 large industrial plants across the country, including the Haifa oil refineries.

A draft emission permit for the Tamar rig was published for comment in August last year and a public discussion was held for interested citizens and environmental activists, Environmental Protection Ministry officials, the Ashkelon District Cities Association, the operator Noble Energy Mediterranean Ltd, and others.

A ministry statement issued Monday said that the final emissions permit incorporates many of the proposals made during that public consultation period.

On Sunday, the ministry patted Noble Energy on the back in a separate report on pollution and global warming gas emissions, which showed that the 570 biggest factories in Israel cost the state NIS 13 billion ($3.9 billion) in damage to public health and the environment last year.

The Texas-based company took second place out of ten businesses commended for cutting such indirect costs by installing technology at the Tamar rig that absorbs emissions into the system rather than pushing them out into the air.

This technology has led to a 61% drop in the platform’s emissions of possibly carcinogenic substances and a reduction in the cost of indirect damages from NIS 37.5 million ($11 million) to NIS 14.4 million ($4.3 million), the report said.

Although Sunday’s annual report was the eighth of its kind, it was the first one to gauge the external, or indirect, costs of these emissions according to criteria set by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These costs include, for example, providing hospital treatment to people with pollution-related diseases, or cleaning up a river that has been contaminated by industrial waste.

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