The environmental protection minister is constantly warning that Israel is not equipped to deal with a potentially massive pollution that could be the result of an offshore drilling malfunction as the State continues to issue drilling permits without conditioning them with disaster contingencies.
This month alone, two new drilling projects were approved, off the shores of Herzliya and Ashdod. Meanwhile, it has been reported that Noble Energy is unable to stop a water leak at its Leviathan 2 site, which is the result of a rig malfunction. It is still unclear whether there is any environmental damage, but how can we be sure us that the next leak won't be that of gas or oil?
A massive maritime pollution as a result of a malfunction in one of the rigs is not a far-fetched scenario, as the Gulf of Mexico disaster proved just two years ago. But the concerns go beyond a leak. The simultaneous exploration for gas and oil is a complex technological process that has an innate potential of harming the maritime ecosystem.
The main environmental concern is from the waste produced by the drilling process, as well as by the physical presence of the rigs, which can affect biologically sensitive maritime habitats.
Plans on paper only
The ocean, meanwhile, is becoming one of Israel's most important resources. According to government plans, a substantial part of Israel's drinking water will be derived in the future form desalinated water; the energy market will rely on its natural gas depositories and should the explorations strike oil, the energy market will rely on them as well.
But while we are developing a dependency on ocean resources, the demand that their use is done in a careful and environmentally responsible manner – based on the experience of other nations worldwide – is perceived as a nuisance.
In order to keep this blessing from turning into a curse, it is time for the government to step up to the plate. A massive oil leak in Israel will have serious ramifications that are likely to extend beyond ecological damage. Such an event will cripple power and desalination facilities along the coast, damage harbor activities, close down beaches, paralyze the fishing industry and damage tourism.
The absurdity is that a contingency plan does exist – but only on paper. The plan suggests that all that stands between irresponsible behavior that places the country and risk and responsible policies that minimized the danger is NIS 25 million (about $6.45 million) in funding. That kind of money is a drop in the proverbial bucket for a country with an annual budget of NIS 300 billion ($77.3 billion); which also stands to make billions from these resources – that belong to all of us.
Israel is facing an enormous challenge because alongside the opportunities presented by the ocean, there are many risks as well. In order to prevent them in advance the State must adopt the norms practiced worldwide, including allocation of funds, promoting legislation and increasing transparency.
Nir Papai serves as the deputy director-general at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel