Israel Natural Gas Lines (INGL) has completed construction of a marine liquefied natural gas receiving buoy, from which the flow of gas into Israel’s transmission lines is slated to begin on Friday.

Energy officials at a launching ceremony on Thursday hailed the buoy as capable of relieving the country’s gas shortage until the onset of the Tamar reservoir this April, but also said the facility would remain a key component to Israel’s energy security future. The buoy, a Submerged Turret Loading Buoy , will serve as a connection point to the LNG gasification ships, which will unload natural gas directly to the maritime portion of the national transmission system at a volume of about 1.5 billion to 2 billion cubic meters per year.

In just its first weeks running, the government expects the buoy to save the Israeli energy market about NIS 500 million, a number that will expand to billions of shekels in coming years, according to INGL.

“This is the final stage for a great beginning in order to secure energy independence for the first time in Israel,” INGL chairman Ron Haimovsky told The Jerusalem Post prior to the launch ceremony at the Hadera Port on Thursday morning. “LNG will bridge the gap in the period of time between now and Tamar, but in addition will continue to supply natural gas – which is cleaner and cheaper to industry.”

Following a decision to import LNG made by Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau 22 months ago, INGL signed a NIS 500m. agreement with the Italian company MICOPERI in October 2011 for the design, manufacture and construction of the gas transmission buoy.

After negotiations with the residents of Hadera, the buoy was situated with their approval 10 kilometers west of the port. This week, the Israel Electric Corporation employed a leased gasification ship to conduct final system checks before the regular gas flow was set to begin on Friday, INGL said.

Since its 2003 beginnings, INGL has constructed four major transmission sections: sea line (active since May 2006), central line (May 2007), southern line (November 2009) and northern line (April 2011). In light of Israel’s forthcoming natural gas bloom, the company this year will be building a line to Jerusalem and an eastern line parallel to the coastline along Road 6, Haimovsky said.

The LNG project has been launched in “world-record” time, Haimovsky stressed, a sentiment echoed by Claudio Bartolotti, deputy managing director at MICOPERI.

All in all, the buoy stands 10 meters high, with giant anchors 18 meters in length and an 8-meter pipeline, as well as valves and subsystems, all implemented with 5,000 hours of scuba diving, according to Haimovsky.

Even when Israel’s own gas from Tamar is flowing, the buoy will allow for more flexibility and backup during times of crisis, providing an additional entry point for gas into the country’s transmission system, explained IEC chairman Yiftach Ron- Tal. “The buoy is only one milestone in our path toward realizing the vision of 80-20 [80 percent natural gas] in Israel’s electricity market – a vision that will bring economic and environmental benefits to Israel’s residents,” he said.

Meanwhile, INGL CEO Shmuel Turgeman stressed that the decision to bring in an LNG buoy was courageous on the part of the Energy and Water Ministry, as this type of buoy had only been used in three other places around the world.

“Beginning tomorrow, Israel will be one of the four countries in the world that has a floating buoy for LNG reception,” Turgeman said, noting that the buoy will be capable of transferring between 3,000 and 4,000 megawatts of energy per hour.

Hadera Mayor Haim Avitan thanked INGL for its cooperation with his city’s citizens in determining the exact location and planning of all the details of the project, stressing that he hoped that gas would “save the Israeli energy market.”

Emphasizing just how critical both this floating LNG buoy and Israel’s own natural gas reservoirs will be to the energy economy, Landau stressed that the new government when formed must immediately implement the conclusions of the Zemach Committee, and export up to 50 percent of Israel’s own gas. This call for export at a high level has created a heated argument on the part of the country’s green activists and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

“Natural gas is the principle growth engine of the Israeli economy, with an updated forecast of economic growth of more than a full percent thanks to the gas production,” Landau said. “The people of Israel have discovered in the Mediterranean Sea a treasure full to the brim that will transform electricity to becoming more efficient, cleaner and cheaper.”

Speaking about the Energy and Water Ministry’s constant work to realize Israel’s natural gas development, the minister noted “it is rare that a minister is able to see to completion a process that began with him.”

“This is a moment of satisfaction and I draw from it hope – we can overcome bureaucracy,” Landau stressed.

While praising the current ministry’s vision of supplying natural gas to every manufacturer as well as improving relations with Israel’s neighbors through gas trade, Haimovsky assured the Post that natural gas advancements will continue no matter who the next energy minister is.

“We are not subject to any minister,” Haimovsky said.

“There is a vision, a need and basic facts. Working with our neighbors when it comes to energy and economy is not a luxury – it’s a must.”