Government report finds Israel methane emissions much higher than world averages

In annual report, Environmental Protection Ministry assesses emissions cost state NIS 12.9 billion ($4 billion) in damage to public health and environment last year

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

The Orot Rabin power station, seen from the Hadera Stream Park, Hadera, northern Israel, on November 25, 2017. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
The Orot Rabin power station, seen from the Hadera Stream Park, Hadera, northern Israel, on November 25, 2017. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The 570 biggest factories in Israel cost the state NIS 12.9 billion ($4 billion) in damage to public health and the environment last year, according to the latest annual report on polluting and global warming gas emissions published by the Environmental Protection Ministry on Monday, which found Israel’s emissions to be higher than world averages.

The figures include NIS 7.7 billion ($2.4 billion) in global warming gases, which actually represents a 3% decrease on 2019. The report explained this by reduced use of gas and a decrease in demand for electricity because of COVID-19 and its effects on production.

The report is the second to assess 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.

The report’s findings are based on data reported by the big companies themselves in the fields of energy, chemicals, metals, food and beverages, waste and wastewater treatment and intensive animal farming.

Among the findings is a 14% increase in emissions of substances known or suspected to cause cancer, and average methane emissions that are considerably higher than those in the European Union and across the world.

Rotem Amfert Negev. (Screenshot)

The leap in carcinogenic emissions comes from benzene discharges at the Israel Chemicals Ltd.-owned Rotem Amfert plant in southern Israel, which produces fertilizers, and from two factories in Ashdod on the southern coast. At Yehuda Steel, sampling for benzene and toluene was carried out for the first time, on ministry orders. Emissions were also up at the Adama plant, which produces agricultural chemicals.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg is set to focus far more of an environmental spotlight on the country’s natural gas industry, the development of which was championed by former Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg speaks during a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities in Ramat Negev, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (Flash90)

Earlier this month, she instructed officials to replace the term natural gas with “offshore drilled gas,” to emphasize that gas is a global warming fossil fuel and not something “natural” in the sense of it being harmless.

Gas produces methane, which remains for less time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but is estimated to be 84 times more powerful as a global warming gas while it is there.

Steinitz and his Director General Udi Adiri, who has continued under the new Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, played down methane emissions from the gas industry as negligible.

But as Monday’s report points out, current monitoring is limited to optical cameras and sampling on the gas production platforms only and not along the infrastructure that brings the gas from the drilling wells to the platform.

The report says that the ministry is considering expanding the monitoring requirements.

The Natural Gas Authority, based at the Energy Ministry, says the document, has reported a difference of 0.06 billion cubic meters of gas from the point of supply to consumption, explaining it as “losses and measurement gaps in gas distribution processes.”

This unaccounted-for quantity is equal to around 40,000 tons of methane, or 15% of the total methane emitted by Israel, in the Environment Ministry’s view, while the Gas Authority has submitted much lower figures that the ministry has not yet had time to review.

Workers on the Tamar gas processing rig on June 23, 2014. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

From next year, the emissions report will include a section on methane emissions, which also comes from waste landfill sites, livestock farming and sewage treatment plants.

According to Monday’s report, methane accounts for 12% of Israel’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the rest coming from carbon dioxide.

Per capita, this amounts to 1.3 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e. (CO2e is a unit of measurement used to compare different gases).

This, says the report, compares with per capita averages of 1.07 tons of CO2e worldwide and 0.89 tons in the European Union, according to World Bank data.

The Dudaim dump site, the biggest landfill in Israel, near the city of Rahat in southern Israel, seen on August 10, 2016. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

Arie Vanger, responsible for air-related issues at the environmental organization Adam Teva V’din, has calculated that as Israel moves from coal and oil to natural gas over the next few years, total greenhouse gas emissions will actually increase by an annual net average of 6.4 million tons, equivalent to 8% per year.

In a move to slash methane emissions from landfill sites, the ministry wants to move to a circular economy, where one person’s waste is another person’s resource and the emphasis is on recycling and reuse.

According to Monday’s report, three new waste sorting facilities opened this year, with another four planned over the coming three years.

As in previous years, the ministry ranks the ten most polluting factories. This year, Israel Electric Company power stations took the first, second, fourth, fifth and eighth positions, with two private power stations operating in southern Israel — Dorad in Ashkelon and Orot Yosef in Ramat Hovav — taking ninth and tenth positions respectively.

First place went this year, as it did last year, to the IEC’s Orot Rabin power station in central Israel, where coal — due to be phased out by 2025 — is still being partially used. Second place went again to the Rutenberg power station in Ashkelon and third place, again, to the Nesher cement factory in Ramle, central Israel.

Rotem Amfert made sixth place, followed by Haifa Oil Refineries in seventh, up from ninth position in last year’s report.

Of all the big industrial zones in the country, Neot Hovav in the Negev emitted the least emissions, with the Negev’s Mishor Rotem and the southern coastal city of Ashkelon reporting the highest. Ashkelon’s pollution is traceable largely to three large power stations, while Mishor Rotem’s pollution was caused mainly by Rotem Amfert, the report said.

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