The recommendations of the committee, headed by Prof. Avi Simhon, Head of the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office, would end Bazan Group’s oil refinery operations in Haifa.

By ZEV STUB   APRIL 26, 2021

Firefighters use water to dilute ammonia leaking from a chemical plant (photo credit: REUTERS)
Firefighters use water to dilute ammonia leaking from a chemical plant (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel must remove the petrochemical chemical plants in Haifa within 10 years, according to a new target set by an executive committee established by the government.

The recommendations of the committee would end Bazan Group’s oil-refinery operations in Haifa, long accused of releasing significant amounts of pollution to the environment around Haifa Bay. Bazan’s operations date back to before the establishment of the state in 1948.

The committee is headed by Prof. Avi Simhon, chairman of the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The plan is open to public comment for two weeks, after which changes will be examined by the government. It suggests that the plants be dismantled even before 10 years if conditions allow.Haifa Bay, with its petrochemical plants, oil refineries and industrial chemical plants, along with Israel’s largest port, is one of the country’s main centers of environmental pollution.

The plan recommends rezoning the land in a way that would enable the sustainable development of the bay area and turn it into a residential- and employment-oriented zone. The plan is subject to meeting the minimum energy needs necessary to ensure functional continuity after the cessation of activities.“

The Haifa metropolitan area is in a state of decline in relation to all districts and subdistricts in the State of Israel… It is clear that the presence of the petrochemical industry in the heart of Haifa… deters residents and businesses from settling in the area and is, therefore, a factor that hinders its economic and urban development,” the report said.

Following the report’s publication, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said: “The closure of these factories is in [Israel’s] health and environmental interest and also in the economic interest. The removal of hazardous materials and the cessation of pollutant emissions will lead to the opening of new businesses, the establishment of green industries and more people moving to the area.“

By closing the petrochemical plants, our clear position is that any new industrial infrastructure to be built in Haifa Bay should be clean, without the use of polluting fossil fuels, such as natural gas. This is the only way for the economy to switch to renewable energies and create sustainable jobs.”

“We have stood by the residents of Haifa Bay all along with an environmental and just position, in the face of capitalists and various bodies that have tried to torpedo the move,” Gamliel said. “We must now ensure that all relevant parties continue the implementation process, including the Finance Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority, to support the public and environmental interest and to ignore the pressures exerted on the members of the committee.”

The plan earned the approval of Israeli environmental advocates.

“Finally, the state has learned to move toward the end of the era of oil refining in the Haifa metropolitan area,” said Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense). “Our position is to act quickly and resolutely to shut down the refining industry long before the decade ends, and we expect the government to set a binding deadline. The reduction of pollution and the improvement of environmental protection and public health must be uncompromisingly ensured.”

Attorney Sarit Golan-Steinberg, chairwoman of the Haifa Bay Area Cities Association, said: “Within the excellent recommendations that appear in the draft, the recognition that the Haifa metropolitan area is declining, and the setting of concrete steps to save it, is the conservative target of about a decade, when it is clear that this can be done within five years.“

Unfortunately, some of the CEOs and officials in the Finance, Energy and the Economy ministries tried to prevent the recommendations for closing Bazan. We have two weeks of struggle to amend the recommendation so that it includes a firm statement with a final date for the closure of the petrochemical industry in Haifa Bay.”