05/10/2012 01:57
Economic Affairs Committee makes the move at the behest of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

At the behest of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Economic Affairs Committee authorized the addition of two environmental representatives to the Petroleum Council.

The council, which advises the energy and water minister on updating oil and gas drilling policy, will now increase from nine to 13 members.

Initially the council had contained five members of the public and four government representatives, all appointed by the energy and water minister. Now, as per the Economic Affairs Committee approval, the energy and water minister will be responsible for appointing seven members of the public, two representatives from his own ministry, two representatives from the Finance Ministry and two representatives from the Environmental Protection Ministry, via recommendations from the environmental protection minister.

“Finally environmental considerations will be incorporated into the distribution of drilling licenses and tenders for the exploration and production of petroleum,” said Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, hailing the decision. “In this manner, it will be possible to reduce mishaps and environmental and health damages that are liable to occur in the process of drilling and production.”

Committee chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) noted that “we are not long after the incident of the pungent smell in Gush Dan, and therefore need to be vigilant” – a reference to the still mysterious stench that overtook the region last Thursday.

“I will not introduce this proposal to the plenum without environmental representatives,” he added.

During the meeting, Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau said he had already appointed Sharon Nissim, head of the Kishon River Authority, and that it would be an “exaggeration” to add another environmental representative, according to the committee spokesman. After Shama-Hacohen approved the proposal, Landau requested to submit his reservations, advocating that only one representative be appointed via Erdan’s recommendations.

Meanwhile, MK Dov Henin (Hadash) asked to submit a series of his own reservations, in which the environmental protection minister would appoint seven out of the 13 members, the Finance Ministry two and the Energy and Water Ministry the remaining four, according to the committee spokesman.

Henin argued that the decisions of the Oil Council would end up having farreaching environmental significance, citing the findings of a report that followed the 2010 Gulf of Mexico crisis.

This report, he explained, stipulated that there must be a separation between the energy and environmental regulators when it came to drilling, rather than the energy and water minister having all the responsibilities.

SPNI, which had been fighting to get environmental representation on the committee for several years, praised Wednesday’s outcome.

“SPNI welcomes the addition of two representatives from the environmental protection minister to the Petroleum Council,” the organization said in a statement.

“Drilling for oil and gas has widespread implications for the environment, for values of nature, for biological diversity, for water resources and for air in Israel.”

Calling the current Petroleum Law, established in 1952, “archaic,” SPNI said many challenges still lay ahead with regard to amending the processes of gas and oil exploration licensing, as well as the environmental repercussions that went along with such decisions.