Committee rejects objections to the plans submitted by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Zalul, the Israeli environmental association.
By Zafrir Rinat | Jan.15, 2013

The Tel Aviv District Planning Committee approved on Monday a plan to conduct experimental drilling in a search for oil some 19 kilometers off the coast from the Herzliya marina – in the very site Israel has proposed as a marine nature reserve.

The committee rejected objections to the plans submitted by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Zalul, the Israeli environmental association. The environmentalists asserted that drilling at the site, known as Gabriella, could damage nature. Moreover, they charged the plan was approved before the governmental ministries were given the necessary tools for preventing possible pollution of the sea from carrying out the drilling. The Herzliya municipality also submitted an objection to the plan.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel objected to the Gabriella drilling because it is planned in an area that according to the Nature and Parks Authority’s plans is supposed to be a marine reserve called Poleg Reserve. “The reserve is one of four proposed marine reserves, and they are supposed to represent a marine ecological system that is important to be preserved,” the organization wrote in its objection to the district planning board.

In wake of the decision to reject the objections, SPNI responded: “An absurd situation has been created in which the State of Israel, through the Nature and Parks Authority, promotes a marine nature reserve in an area and on the other hand the planning institutions of the Interior Ministry approve drilling there.”

Adira, an oil exploration company, developed the experimental drilling plan, whose goal is to locate a commercially viable oil field. According to a statement by the Interior Ministry, the district committee approved the plan in order to balance the needs of the state to find natural resources and the need to preserve the sea environment. In light of the request submitted to it, the committee attached several conditions to its approval, which it will soon present to the developers.

Zalul officials berated the decision and charged it was made before the state arranged the necessary mechanisms for a quick response in case of an oil spill. “There’s no emergency equipment, no training manpower to handle an oil spill and insufficient means to supervise the drilling company’s platforms to make sure they are operating properly regarding the environment,” the NGO responded in a statement.

“Drilling has to be done responsibly and only after the state ensures that all steps were taken to avoid disaster, Zafrir Gordon, Zalul’s sea coordinate, said on Monday. “Moreover, the time has come for that the division of maritime usage be done with a holistic perspective.”

Adira is obliged to submit to the district planning authority an environmental impact statement regarding the drilling it plans to do. It’s one of 50 drillings in search of oil that the Energy Ministry has approved to date since the first one in 1969. The Energy Ministry awarded 32 licenses for oil and gas drilling in recent years.