05/24/2013 04:23

Gas export recommendations released to public; Peretz: “The export of 40% of our natural gas does not meet the real needs of the citizens.”

Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom announced on Thursday that he has decided to publish, in the near future, all of the protocols of the Zemach Committee, which made recommendations this fall about natural gas export quantities.

“I studied the issue at length since I took office and after talks with the Justice Ministry, I reached the conclusion that we must increase transparency in public discourse and include the public in discussions before advancing the committee’s conclusions,” Shalom said.

This declaration comes the day after he told Channel 2 that he intends to set the maximum natural gas export allocation at 40 percent rather than the expected 53% figure.

As companies continue to explore and drill through Israel’s eastern Mediterranean waters, export allowances have become a topic of contention across the country. The 282-billion cubic meter Tamar reservoir is already flowing into Israel, and its neighboring approximately 535b. cu.m. basin Leviathan is slated to come online within the next few years. Although the Zemach Committee – headed by Energy and Water Ministry Director- General Shaul Zemach – recommended a maximum export allocation of 500b. cu.m. this fall, the government has yet to officially approve any export policy.

The Zemach Committee’s conclusions, which also called for a minimum of 450b. cu.m. of gas to be allotted for domestic use, have been under constant criticism from environmentalists across the board, who say that much more of the resource is needed at home.

Gas explorers and producers, on the other hand, contend that a stable export policy will attract additional entrepreneurs to enter the region and thereby discover more resources – bringing a benefit to Israel’s citizens as well.

After hearing the 40% export cap presented on Channel 2, environmentalists maintained on Wednesday night that they would not be satisfied with this figure.

“The export of 40% of our natural gas, as was published this evening, is an offer that was presented to us but our position is that this proposal does not meet the real needs of the citizens of Israel,” said Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz.

According to the Environment Ministry’s tests and analyses, at least 600b. cu.m. of natural gas will be required for the energy, transportation and chemicals industry at home, Peretz added.

MK Dov Henin (Hadash) likewise slammed the 40% allocation, calling on the Energy and Water Ministry to “stop playing with numbers and return to talk about principles.”

Henin explained that such a decision needs to be discussed in the Knesset and needs to be a transparent matter with public input.

Presenting this reduction of percentages as a “social” decision is false, since export percentage can only be relevant once Israel knows exactly how much gas it has, added Amit Bracha, executive director of Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense).

“This discourse is not about amounts of percentages of gas that Israel will export, but is a substantive issue of who owns Israeli gas,” said a statement from the Struggle for the Preservation of Israeli Gas movement.

However, environmentalists also praised Shalom for his decision to publish the protocols of the committee and stressed the importance of involving the public in the country’s natural gas future.

Henin also welcomed the move and said that the next step is to bring the discussion of the issue to the Knesset.

“In principle, it is not possible that discussions of this type that are so important will be hidden from the public and from the Knesset,” Henin said.