The cabinet on Sunday unanimously voted to shut down the polluting Bazan Group Oil Refineries in northern Israel’s Haifa Bay and its oil storage complex in nearby Kiryat Haim.
Faced with significant air pollution and above-average incidences of cancer and respiratory disease, Haifa residents, backed by environmental activists, have been campaigning for years to shut the complex down.
Bazan occupies 526 acres (2,130 dunams) in Haifa Bay, close to the most heavily populated areas of northern Israel. Its refinery imports crude oil to make a range of refined products (distillates) for industry, transport and agriculture. Subsidiaries make products ranging from bitumen for road surfaces to waxes, oils, lubricants and polymers.
A top-level committee of officials set up within the Prime Minister’s Office recommended last year that the complex be closed “as soon as possible, and within no more than a decade.”
During Sunday’s meeting, ministers voted for the cessation of petrochemical activities within a decade. At the same time, they decided that the state will prompt large-scale infrastructure, residential and transportation projects in the area amounting to billions of shekels.
The plan would allow the construction of 70,000 to 100,000 new buildings in the Haifa metropolitan area.
“The government’s decision is an important step in a process that will lead to the end of the petrochemical industry in Haifa Bay, recovery of the area and its surroundings, and improvement of the quality of life and the environment in the entire region,” said Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg after the vote.
“The importance of the decision is that the entire government is committed to it, and that it provides a real horizon for the residents of Haifa and the entire bay, and clearly outlines the direction and main courses of action in order to reach it.”
However, environmental groups accused the government of failing to present a detailed timetable and a proper budget for the decision.
“Contrary to all logic and the recommendation of the ministry directors, there is no final closing date for the bay and the cessation of refining. Instead of closing the petrochemical industry, new infrastructure is being built to store petrochemical fuels at huge budgets. This is complete madness,” said Elad Hochman, director of the environmental organization Green Course.
The environmental group Homeland Guards also opposed the decision, which it claimed was politically motivated, “detached from the needs of the public and the mood in the environmental movement, devoid of initiative, entrenches the use of fossil fuels in Israel and may even expand their infrastructure.”
The group added that “this is not what we hoped for, especially from a government that defines itself as the most environmentally friendly in the history of Israel.”