Despite pollution fears, gas flow begins from behemoth Leviathan field

Despite pollution fears, gas flow begins from behemoth Leviathan field

Noble Energy performs gas rig flushing test overnight, and begins extracting gas and sending it to Israel, overruling opposition from locals, environmentalists

The Noble Energy control room on the Leviathan platform on December 31, 2019. (Noble Energy)
The Noble Energy control room on the Leviathan platform on December 31, 2019. (Noble Energy)

Gas began flowing from the mammoth Leviathan offshore natural gas field on Tuesday, after the government gave a final go-ahead to Noble Energy to forge ahead with the project despite vocal protests from residents of the coastal region who are concerned about the pollution emitted by the rigs.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said Monday that Noble Energy and its partners had met all the necessary conditions to begin pumping gas, paving the way for the rigs to begin extracting the estimated 22 trillion cubic feet of gas trapped underground.

Early Tuesday morning Noble began a gas rig test that is necessary ahead of starting operations, and later that morning the partners in Leviathan announced the start of natural gas production from the reservoir, the largest energy project in Israel’s history.

The first gas will reach Israel’s shores via the pipes within 24 to 48 hours from the start of production, the companies estimated.

The Leviathan gas platform, offshore Israel (Albatross)

The start of the gas “marks a historic turning point in the history of Israeli economy,” said Yossi Abu, the CEO of Delek Drilling LP, one of the partners in the field. “For the first time since its establishment, Israel is now an energy powerhouse, able to supply all its energy needs and gaining energy independence. At the same time, we will be exporting natural gas to Israel’s neighbors, thus strengthening Israel’s position in the region. Leviathan project will bring the coal era in Israel to an end, and will supply efficient, inexpensive and clean energy to people in Israel and in the Middle East.”

Gas from the Leviathan field will be transferred via two subsea pipelines, 120 kilometers in length, to the processing platform, which lies 10 kilometers west of the coastline. Gas processing will take place entirely offshore, and the processed gas and stabilized condensate will be transferred from the platform to the shore via two separate pipelines that will be connected to the national gas transmission system, and to the national fuel transmission pipeline, the partners said in a statement Tuesday.

A gas rig test planned for last week was scratched at the last minute because of concerns that the company had failed to meet the necessary criteria for the procedure. However, on Friday, the Environmental Protection Ministry gave the green-light for the test early Tuesday, paving the way for turning on the spigots.

In the test, workers flushed out the nitrogen currently filling the rig’s pipes. Environmental groups argued that the chemicals involved could have carcinogenic effects and many residents along the coast have expressed concerns over the release of potential pollutants.

Israelis demonstrating close to the Knesset, Jerusalem, against a decision to locate the Leviathan natural gas processing platform ten kilometers from central Israel’s shore, June 12, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90

The ministry and company maintain that the tests are safe, but nonetheless, some residents of Zikhron Yaakov and other areas south of Haifa evacuated their homes Tuesday out of fears of possible harmful effects, with schools in the area reportedly shuttering as well.

“There are no special instructions for the public, or for an evacuation of residents. According to the opinions of all the experts there is not expected to be any danger to the public during the pipe-flushing,” the ministry said in a statement.

A petition earlier this month claimed that during a single eight-hour test, more pollutants would be released than in a year or two of regular drilling operations. Jerusalem’s District Court, however, ruled that the test could go ahead, as the petitioners had failed to provide professional testimony to refute the opinions of state professionals who deemed the test safe.

In October, a 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.

A worker walking on the Leviathan natural gas platform, offshore Israel (Albatross)

Located in the Mediterranean Sea 125 kilometers (77 miles) west of Haifa, the Leviathan field holds some 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. The platform’s upper level stands 47 meters above the sea level (154.2 feet).

The gas supply will help phase out expensive and more-polluting imported coal, and allow for gas exports. This will lower energy costs, making Israeli industries more competitive, and bring in revenue from the sale of gas to neighboring countries, boosting the country’s current account, an important indicator of economic health, economists say.

Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. and its partners in Leviathan — including Delek Drilling, a unit of the Delek Group Ltd., and Ratio Oil Exploration 1992 LP — discovered the field, one of the largest deep-water natural gas finds in the world, in 2010. The project is the largest funded by private capital in Israel’s history.

Noble and its partners have invested $3.6 billion to date in the first stage of development of the reservoir, the companies said Tuesday, $150 million less than projected in the project’s original budget. The nearby Tamar field —  Israel’s second-largest find, also owned by Noble, Delek and Israeli firm Isramco Negev 2, LP — started producing gas in 2013 and has been supplying the country. It holds some 10 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas, half of the amount held in Leviathan.

A crane vessel makes its way to Israel to help set up the Leviathan natural gas platform. (Noble Energy)

The two fields, along with the smaller Karish and Tanin fields that are set to start production in 2021, are seen as a bonanza for a nation that has traditionally been starved of natural resources. They also provide a stable source of locally produced energy from four different fields, leading to a more secure supply that is enough to feed all of Israel’s electricity needs for decades.

The Leviathan partners have signed two significant export contracts, with Egypt and Jordan, which are seen to help strengthen ties with the two neighboring countries with which Israel has peace agreements.

Israel has been exporting gas from the Tamar field to Jordan since January 2017, but the Leviathan deals are considered to be bigger and more significant for the economy.

Leviathan natural gas exports to neighboring countries is expected to begin in the coming weeks, the partners said on Tuesday. “For the first time in its history, Israel will be a large-scale gas exporter to neighboring countries,” the statement said.

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