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High Court petitioned to stop oil, gas exploration in unique marine habitat

Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel says Energy Ministry allowed Greek company to explore deep-sea region despite knowing of site’s great sensitivity

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

Unusual corals like this one have been discovered in the deep sea area of the Palmachim Disturbance 30 kilometers off the Tel Aviv coast. (Adam Weissman, Yitzhak Makovsky, Danny Chernov, Haifa University Department of Marine Biology.)
Unusual corals like this one have been discovered in the deep sea area of the Palmachim Disturbance 30 kilometers off the Tel Aviv coast. (Adam Weissman, Yitzhak Makovsky, Danny Chernov, Haifa University Department of Marine Biology.)

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) on Wednesday filed a petition to the High Court of Justice to order a permanent halt to oil and gas exploration in an area of the Mediterranean Sea that the Energy Ministry itself declared to be exceptionally environmentally sensitive just four years ago.

The permit allows the Greek Energean Oil & Gas PLC to drill in a 600-square-kilometer (230-square-mile) deep-sea area, most of it covering what, for geological reasons, is called the Palmachim Disturbance, 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) west of Tel Aviv. Its depth varies from 450 to 1,200 meters (1,500 to 3,900 feet).

According to the SPNI, this patch includes rare corals, squid, sharks, unique methane springs and breeding grounds for endangered species such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

The petition says the ministry gave the permit without telling an advisory council about the results of its own strategic survey from 2016 and without ensuring that an Environmental Protection Ministry official was included on the council.

It explains that “thirty kilometers west of our coast, within Israel’s economic waters, is a wonderful nature site discovered only during the past decade, with rare habitats of the deep sea.”

Unusual corals like this one have been discovered in the deep sea area of the Palmachim Disturbance 30 kilometers off the Tel Aviv coast. (Adam Weissman, Yitzhak Makovsky, Danny Chernov, Haifa University Department of Marine Biology.)

The area, according to the petition, was marked for preservation in 2019 by the government’s Committee for the Preservation of the Marine Environment.

“Despite this, the Petroleum Commissioner in the Energy Ministry gave the Energean company a permit to explore for gas and oil… which includes all the sensitive parts of the Palmachim Disturbance.

“It does not need saying that oil exploration and production in this area, both routine and… in the event of failure and leakage, can lead to irreversible damage to a site of extraordinary importance, and even eradicate unique aspects of nature, some of them important on a global scale.”

Energean is a key player in the development of the Karish and Tanin natural gas fields off Israel’s shores.

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