Jerusalem’s District Court on Thursday ruled that a gas rig test off Israel’s coast that has been denounced by local authorities as potentially hazardous to the population could go ahead as planned.
After temporarily halting the test on Tuesday to review petitions by the six local governments, Judge Eli Abarbanel ruled that the petitioners had failed to provide professional testimonies to refute the opinions of state professionals who deemed the test safe.
Under those circumstances, concerns raised by the petitioners did not justify the harm to the natural gas pumping project off the country’s coast.
A second petition by an environmental group was set to be debated in court later in the day.
In a statement, the consortium behind Leviathan said it welcomed the court’s decision, and said the project “has been subject to rigorous oversight by the ministries of energy and environmental protection and various other regulatory bodies.
“The natural gas from Leviathan will improve Israel’s air quality by displacing coal, improve Israel’s environment, provide security of supply and create unprecedented commercial ties in the region,” the statement read.
The test is a key step before a new rig 10 kilometers (six miles) offshore can begin pumping natural gas out of the Leviathan field in the Mediterranean, which is expected to transform Israel into an energy powerhouse.
Six local authorities had petitioned the court asking it to stop Noble Energy and its partners from carrying out the test before a study could be done of possible harmful effects of the trial.
The test had originally been scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday but the court-ordered delay likely means it will not be carried out this week.
Activists have threatened to organize an immediate mass evacuation of residents from affected municipalities south of Haifa, who would then march toward Tel Aviv in protest.
Energy companies and the government say the planned test is safe and that they have expert opinions to support this, but in Hof Hacarmel and five other municipalities, mayors argue it will spread dangerous amounts of cancer-causing pollutants.
The petition claimed that during a single eight-hour test, more pollutants will be released than in a year or two of regular drilling operations.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said this week that gas could start flowing before the new year, signing off on a permit to allow exports to Egypt.
The discovery of Leviathan and other large offshore gas fields has spurred excitement by some in resource-poor Israel, which is expected to see billions of dollars in revenue from the energy extraction. However, activists have warned of environmental damage, especially along coastal areas opposite the rigs.
In October a prestigious scientific journal published an academic study that found that environmental impact assessments carried out by Noble Energy for the Leviathan platform “grossly” underestimated the quantity of polluting emissions, contained “a series of flaws,” relied on “overly simplistic” models and should be redone more professionally.
The findings were rejected by Noble Energy, which said that it was installing technology on the platform that would keep emissions close to zero.
Located in the Mediterranean Sea 125 kilometers (77 miles) west of Haifa, the Leviathan field is estimated to hold 22 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, and a potential half a million barrels of oil, according to estimates provided by the partners in the field.