Amid rocket fire, Israel shuts Tamar offshore gas field as precaution

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz orders halt in supplies from country’s only natural gas rig due to ’emergency situation’ as rocket bombardments from Gaza continue

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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)

As rockets from the Gaza Strip continued to batter the south of the country Sunday, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz ordered the Tamar offshore natural gas field closed and put the country’s energy infrastructure into an emergency mode.

The Tamar field is Israel’s only operating natural gas source and without its supplies power stations will need to use other fuels to meet electricity demands.

In a statement, the Energy Ministry said it was declaring an “emergency situation in the natural gas sector” but offered no further explanation.

The announcement came as Gaza-based terror groups fired hundreds of rockets from the Palestinian enclave at southern Israel.

A picture taken on May 5, 2019 from the Israel-Gaza border shows a barrage of rockets being fired from the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Supplies from Tamar are pumped to the city of Ashkelon through an undersea pipeline from a rig located around 20 kilometers off the coast. Some of the more than 650 rockets fired at Israel since Friday have had a range of over 30 kilometers.

Shutting off supplies from the rig reduces the fire risk should the structure — a significant strategic target for terror groups — be hit by a rocket, Hebrew media reported.

Without the flow of natural gas from Tamar energy producers will need to use emergency procedures including burning diesel, coal, and liquefied natural gas from a storage ship anchored off the coast of Hadera in the north of the country. The Israel Electric Corporation is the biggest customer of the Tamar field, using some 54% of its output.

Sources said the emergency situation was ordered for a week, The Marker reported, but may be extended or shortened depending on developments.

Hebrew media reports said that switching to other fuel supplies may bring a hike in electricity tariffs later in the year. It will also increase pollution.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during an on-stage interview in Petah Tikva on March 30, 2019. (Screen capture/Channel 13)

Four Israelis were killed Sunday by the rocket fire and dozens of others have been injured since violence erupted on Friday. Israel responded to the rockets with airstrikes against hundreds of targets in Gaza including infrastructure of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terror groups.

At least 20 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli strikes and over 100 injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. Many of the Palestinians killed were identified as members of Hamas, a terror group which rules Gaza and seeks to destroy Israel.

Israel has in the past planned to deploy navy ships equipped with the Iron Dome missile defense system in order to protect its offshore natural gas assets.

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