Zalul warns bathers that there is no proper emergency equipment or personnel, and no sufficient insurance for potential disasters.

Wearing black bathing suits and covered in black skin paint, a group of activists took to several Tel Aviv beaches on Saturday, in attempt to convince the public that the government is unprepared to handle the mishaps associated with marine gas and oil drilling.

From the environmental organization Zalul, the activists were on Tel Aviv’s beaches warning bathers that there is no proper emergency equipment or personnel, no separation of powers and no sufficient insurance for potentially catastrophic events that could occur at sea during gas and oil drilling.

The government, they claimed, is failing to protect the sea from spills, and is therefore endangering not only the waters themselves but the economy and security of Israel as well.

The activists moved on Saturday from Mezizim Beach to Bugrashov, Jerusalem, Banana and Manta Ray beaches, all the while spreading their messages and marking bathers’ backs with black handprints.

Over the course of the month, they plan to do the same at beaches in other cities along the coast, the organization said.

“The economic significance of an oil spill off the coast of Israel would be enormous – it would not be possible to desalinate water or produce electricity, maritime trade would stop and tourism would be hit,” said Maya Jacobs, CEO of Zalul. “A spillage would also have security implications, because even the navy’s activities would be limited, and in a case in which a spill would cross neighboring countries’ borders, the implications would become geopolitical.”

Members of Zalul recently sent a letter to Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, detailing some of these points, particularly criticizing the Petroleum Law of 1952 for lacking any instructive segment on protecting the sea from drilling. The letter slammed the ministry for performing the jobs of both promoting the drilling industry as well as protecting the sea from that very industry – a detail that Zalul deems to be a conflict of interests.

In addition, the organization stressed that licensing and supervisory laws of the State of Israel do not apply in Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the Mediterranean, the area in which most of the drilling occurs.

Noble Energy, a Houstonbased firm that is the largest stakeholder in the Tamar and Leviathan gas exploration projects, has stressed that despite the lack of legislation in the Exclusive Economic Zone, the company is adhering to all safety protocols for drilling approved by the US government.

Meanwhile, the Energy and Water Ministry recently published updated environmental information for offshore drilling, emphasizing that the ministry “requires the preparation of environmental documentation that includes a program for monitoring the marine environment.”

The ministry features all of these surveys and other reports from the developers on its website.

Nonetheless, members of Zalul demand that further action be taken.

“Given the potential for great destruction in the event of a marine disaster, our concern is that he who would eventually suffer would be the citizens of Israel, who would be required to pay the price for lack of preparedness and for galloping uncontrolled toward oil exploration,” Jacobs said.

In response to the specific event on Saturday, the Energy and Water Ministry stressed that the authority over and the responsibility for treating oil contamination in the sea is in the hands of the Environmental Protection Ministry. Therefore, the ministry explained, “Zalul has no argument in this regard.”

The activities under the auspices of the Energy and Water Ministry relate to the engineering aspects of preventing failures and accidents that could potentially result in contamination from gas and oil, the office said. To accomplish this goal, the ministry assesses, explores and performs regular reviews of the engineering mechanisms being employed in the drilling – ensuring that all systems are operating in the safest possible manner, the ministry added.

Developers must prepare emergency plans in accordance with ministry protocols as a condition of beginning drilling, and the companies are required to purchase insurance to cover damage in an amount equivalent to five times the cost of the drilling.

“The Energy and Water Ministry works to create a proper balance between the need to develop Israel’s energy resources and promote energy independence with the necessary regulatory supervision for oil and gas drilling including environmental issues.” the ministry said, noting that all work is conducted in close cooperation with the Environmental Protection Ministry. “[Zalul’s] claims about drilling ignore that the main danger of sea pollution from oil is due to other sources, among them the fear of marine accidents of oil transport tankers in the Mediterranean Sea.”