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The deadly proximity of the Leviathan gas platform

The offshore processing plant, as currently planned, has potentially dire health and ecological consequences
An aerial view of an Israeli offshore gas rig (Albatross Aerial photography/Noble Energy/Flash90/File)
An aerial view of an Israeli offshore gas rig (Albatross Aerial photography/Noble Energy/Flash90/File)

Since 2013, Israel has had an active natural-gas extraction platform, Tamar, located about 23 kilometers off the coast of Ashkelon. More are planned to follow: Tanin, Karish and, largest of all, Leviathan. The process of natural-gas extraction induces a separation from two elements: some wastewater and a gas called condensate, which is usually sold.

Gas condensate requires careful handling because leakage into the sea is disastrous: it contains dangerous and carcinogenic products such as benzene and arsenic, which research has identified as toxic to the liver, central nervous and immune systems, digestive tract, lungs and kidneys. The water derived from gas extraction contains a high concentration of heavy metals, mercury and lead. These are toxic to fish and to us. Mercury exposure causes tremors and memory loss, among other disorders. Lead has been found to be detrimental to the kidneys.

Leviathan’s plan locates the risky and polluting treatment of condensate and wastewater derived from gas production in dangerous proximity to humans and ecosystems that could be irreparably harmed by any one of numerous potential accidents.

Implications of a condensate mishap
A dedicated additional pipe would transport condensate to Israel’s shores  and beyond via land. An accident could damage the pipe, causing the condensate to flow into the sea. This has happened before. The platform’s life duration is about 40 years. Who can guarantee the usual Israeli attitude that “yihyeh b’seder” — it’ll all be fine — for 40 years?

Moreover, a terrorist attack or missile hit on the condensate pipe are additional possibilities.

The platform will be built less than 10 kilometers from the coast of Israel. In the event of an accident, this proximity will have dire consequences:

1) The condensate will spill at immediate proximity to the coast. No response will be effective.
2) Swimming in the sea will not be possible.
3) Fish will be poisoned.
4) Today, 70% of the water we consume in Israel, from the tap and the shower, is desalinized. The desalination plants cannot isolate the condensate. So, they will have to cease operation. Moreover, a spill accident on land may pollute groundwater aquifers, an important water source, and poison local inhabitants, the condensate being very volatile.

The solution? Instead of this dangerous pipe, tankers would come directly to the platform, load the condensate and transport it to where it is sold. The platform must be located far from the coast. The Leviathan well is located 120 kilometers from Israel’s coast. This is where the platform should be.

The wastewater will flow into the sea, no matter what
Even without any accident occurring, a significant amount of the toxic water will simply be discharged into the sea: up to 800 cubic meters per day, every day, over 40 years, less than 10 kilometers from Israel’s coast. The solution is to use modern gas extraction platforms, built using a technology known as FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading). In this process, polluting water is returned to the original well, underground. It does not flow into the sea. The platform floats, unattached to the sea floor, simply linked by suitable cables. When it ends its life after 40 years, it is disconnected and moved somewhere else.

Air pollution implications
In May, the World Health Organization published a report showing that air pollution kills: 7 million people died premature deaths worldwide in 2017 for breathing air polluted by ultrathin particles. This is more deaths than AIDS (1.1 million), tuberculosis (1.4 million), diabetes (1.6 million) and traffic accidents (1.3 million) combined. Air pollution is the major contributor to non-communicable diseases: 70% of premature deaths worldwide. It is responsible for 29% of lung cancers, 25% of strokes, 24% of cardiac arrests, and 43% of chronic respiratory failure cases.

Israel’s air pollution rate is among the highest among OECD countries. Only three of the 35-member OECD countries are worse than Israel: Poland, Chile and Mexico. Of all the countries in the world, Israel is among those with poorer air quality: Worse than Brazil, Greece, Kenya, Paraguay, Uruguay, Montenegro and Bulgaria. Israel counts 2200 premature deaths per year due to air pollution.

Moving the Leviathan platform away would lead to a radical reduction in air pollution. Tamar, the platform located 23 kilometers west of Ashkelon is the most significant source of polluting emissions in Israel. Leviathan will be worse than Tamar, because it will be less than 10 km from the coast and will produce more gas: 500 BCM (billion cubic meters), as opposed to 285 CBM for Tamar.

The solution? Again, positioning the platform above the well. Air dispersion by the winds will significantly reduce the pollution.

How was such a bad decision made for Leviathan?

It is not surprising that public officials recommended the Leviathan plan to our politicians. They knew less when they made the decision than we know today. FPSO technology was still new not well-tested. Today FPSO is widely accepted. So it was adopted for the Karish and Tanin platforms, as it has been on 98% of the platforms worldwide since 2010.

We must change the decision concerning Leviathan.
To conclude in a Jewish way: The Bible and other sources describe Leviathan as a multi-head marine monster, evoking animals’ revolt against the Creator, which the latter destroys. Let us not defy the divine wrath: Put Leviathan far from the Holy Land!

Keeping our distance from the Leviathan
In Jewish Scripture, Leviathan is described as a multi-headed marine monster, an unnatural creature that suggests a revolt against the Creator, who destroys it. Let’s not evoke divine wrath: We must put Leviathan far away from the Holy Land!

Albert Levy, an economist, is Director of Aria Technologies, a leader in air quality assessment, and a candidate for the 21st Knesset in the Zehut party. He is the Herzliya coordinator for the “Homeland Guardians” clean environment movement.

About the Author
Albert Levy, an economist, is Director of Aria Technologies, a leader in air quality assessment, and a candidate for the 21st Knesset in the Zehut party. He is the Herzliya coordinator for the “Homeland Guardians” clean environment movement.
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