Noble Energy ‘violating law’ by failing to share pollution data — ministry

Environmental Protection Ministry opens enforcement proceedings against Texas-based operator of Leviathan natural gas platform, accused by residents of overusing flare stacks

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

The platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, pictured from the northern beach of Dor on December 31, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
The platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, pictured from the northern beach of Dor on December 31, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Environmental Protection Ministry announced Tuesday that it is opening enforcement proceedings against the operator of the Leviathan natural gas platform just off Israel’s northern coast for violating the terms of its emissions permit.

A ministry statement charged that Texas-based Noble Energy, which operates the platform, failed to connect a system that constantly monitors pollutant emissions from the flare stacks to a national database that enables the ministry to keep track of pollutant release continuously and in real time. The data includes constant video footage.

Flare stacks are long vent pipes used to release flammable gases during periods of system problems or breakdown. The Leviathan platform has two — a shorter one for low-pressure releases and a distinctive long one for high-pressure releases.

It is use of the latter that has been the subject of repeated complaints over recent months both by local residents and the Sharon-Carmel Towns Association for the Protection of the Environment.

Yoni Sappir, who heads Home Guardians, a nonprofit organization that campaigns against the Leviathan platform, said the emergency flares lit up the skies “like fireballs” that were longer than the flare stack itself.

The ministry said that it viewed Noble Energy’s violations “with gravity” and stressed that “failure to carry out instructions violates the emissions permit and detracts from the ministry’s ability to efficiently supervise and monitor emissions that pollute the air via the stacks and flares in order to get a picture of the situation in real time of the effect of the platform’s activities on the environment.”

Israel’s offshore Leviathan gas platform. The high pressure flare stack is on the right. Albatross)

The ministry emphasized that coastal monitoring stations had not shown any irregular pollution during the flaring events — a claim confirmed by the Sharon-Carmel Towns Association.

Officials refused to detail the steps they intended to take “so as not to harm the [enforcement] process,” but the ministry promised to publish the results once decisions had been made.

Yoni Sappir, head of the Home Guardians not for profit organization. (Facebook)

Home Guardians welcomed the ministry’s move but said it was not clear whether the intention was to levy fines or to sanction Noble Energy’s senior managers for criminal activity. Nor was it obvious whether the platform would be ordered to stop operating until certain instructions had been fulfilled, the organization said.

“The public, which has learned from bitter experience [in its dealings with] the gas companies, demands full transparency,” Sappir said in a statement. “We expect to see courageous, determined and transparent steps for the benefit of the entire Israeli public.”

A statement from Noble Energy said, “Since the beginning of the Leviathan development and from the day that natural gas began to flow, there has not been a single occurrence in which the environment has been harmed.

Screen capture from video of natural gas being burnt off from the Leviathan natural gas processing platform off the coast, May 23, 2020. (Screen capture: Walla)

“Noble Energy is committed to complying with all the laws and regulations of the State of Israel and is meeting all of the requirements under all of the permits granted by the Environmental Protection Ministry. We are reviewing the letter received by the ministry and will consider our path forward at the appropriate time.”

It said that “safe and uninterrupted operations” would continue.

The Leviathan platform, located 9.7 kilometers (six miles) from the popular Dor Beach, north of Caesarea, began commercial production in January.

Noble Energy and its partner Delek Drilling, owned by Israeli tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva, also established the Tamar gas platform, which began commercial production in 2013.

Data for 2016, published by the Environmental Protection Ministry in November 2017, showed that emissions from Tamar “known or suspected to be carcinogenic” equaled the total of such emissions from 570 large industrial plants across the country, including the Haifa oil refineries.

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