Planning committee greenlights next stage of oil shale and plastic waste factory

Ignoring pleas from environmental groups to cancel plans, committee members approve Environment Ministry terms for an impact survey to include climate costs

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Oil shale rock burns on its own once lit with a blow torch. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
Oil shale rock burns on its own once lit with a blow torch. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

The southern district planning committee on Monday went against the pleas of environmental groups by approving the next stage of planning for a controversial project that seeks to combine oil shale with plastic waste to create oil and generate power.

The Rotem Energy Mineral Partnership (REM) will have to undergo an environmental impact survey that, for the first time, will assess the implications for the climate, as demanded by the Environmental Protection Ministry. The ministry initially tried and failed to have the project scrapped.

The committee has, in the past, recognized and accepted the fact, put forward by the Environmental Protection Ministry and environmental groups, that oil shale is a significant source of pollution, that its mining and use therefore run contrary to government policy to move from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources, and that it conflicts with policy on the treatment of waste.

The REM partnership, controlled by the Australian Casella family-owned Northwood Exploration, plans to build a complex in the Rotem Plain industrial area in southern Israel. The site will include an oil shale mine, a factory where the oil shale will be combined with 200,000 tons of plastic waste each year and heated to produce 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, and a power plant generating some 70 megawatts of electric power for use in the factory and for sale.

In February 2020, the government announced that it would no longer issue new permits for oil shale exploration.

The Energy Ministry said that it would not be renewing the license of Rotem Amfert Negev Ltd., owned by Israel Chemicals Ltd., to continue oil shale extraction beyond May 2021.

But it did say that two other licenses — one granted to REM and the other to Shafir Civil and Marine Engineering’s operation near the Ramon Crater — would be judged according to environmental criteria to be drawn up by the Environmental Protection Ministry.

REM’s board of directors is chaired by Yaakov Mimran, formerly responsible for oil and gas affairs at the Energy Ministry. Eitan Cabel, a former Labor party parliamentarian and Knesset Economics Affairs Committee chairman, is a member of REM’s board.

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