Environmental Ministry concerned that company’s expansion plans could increase air pollution in Haifa area, despite its promises to build environmentally-friendly buildings.
By Revital Hovel | Aug.16, 2012

A plan to expand Oil Refineries’ premises in Haifa four-fold has environmental organizations up in arms. The plan could increase air pollution in and around Haifa, they argue.

The company’s refining facilities and offices are located on a 200,000-square meter site. The plan would expand the site to 920,000 square meters.

Oil Refineries, known in Hebrew as Bazan, has committed to building environmentally-friendly buildings as it expands. However, there is no requirement to keep air pollution emission at the same level.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and other environmental advocates have expressed concern about increased pollution in the Haifa area.

“The plan is problematic from our standpoint,” a ministry source said, “because the refineries are not prepared to commit to not increasing air pollution as a result of the planned expansion.” Regulations will require the company to secure air pollution emission permits from the ministry.

Oil Refineries said that until the master plan is approved, it will comply with the rules and in any case will need permits for construction at the complex. “It should be noted that the strict regulations imposed on Bazan relate to the perimeter of the plant, so in any event, [building] additional facilities would not violate or go beyond the required regulations,” the firm stated.

The company, which is controlled by the Israel Corporation, has committed to invest about $8 million to acquire thermal oxidizer equipment that is designed to reduce the emission of organic carcinogens in the air. But a senior Environment Protection Ministry official said that the company was supposed to have installed three such devices a long time ago but has not kept to the installation schedule.

The ministry source also objected to Oil Refineries’ suggestion that emission levels should be measured on the perimeter of the refinery rather than from the facility’s chimneys themselves.

Although the refinery complex was established in 1938, there has never been a city plan for that area of Haifa, and as a result, buildings were constructed without permits. Until 2005, the government essentially turned a blind eye to the entire area, in terms of planning and permits.

The proposed plan for the site, which is designed to guide development in the area for the next 20 years, was submitted by the regional planning committee in late July for a 60-day period of public comment, including objections and reservations.

Oil Refineries outlined the plan during a public meeting, but only a few dozen members of the public showed up. An environmental group, the Public Health Coalition, objected to the fact that appendices to the master plan, which survey the risks and environmental effects of the expanded facility, have not been posted on the Internet. The group’s air pollution coordinator, Maayan Haim, also said that the survey was based on out-of-date and partial data about the company’s fuel consumption.

Over the past several months, the Environmental Protection Ministry’s “Green Police” have opened an investigation against Oil Refineries over allegations of hundreds of instances in which emissions are said to have exceeded permitted levels. Allegations were also made that large quantities of sludge produced by oil refining had not been removed from the refinery site, despite the ministry’s expanding the deadline for removal several times.