Emissions began flowing from the Leviathan offshore natural gas field Tuesday morning despite concerned locals vociferously protesting pollutants emitted by the rig as it prepared to go online.
According to Noble Energy, the facility was expected to continuously release gases for 8 hours, emitting 76 kilograms of benzene - a colorless, highly flammable toxic substance – during the process's last three hours.
Leviathan's first two gas wells were opened at 2am and gas began to flow, pushing nitrogen out of the pipeline as part of a flushing process.
The nitrogen reportedly began leaving the pipeline at around 7:30am and would take around five hours to fully exit the gas rig. The pollutants reported by Noble Energy will be emitted between 1pm to 3pm.
The mammoth gas treatment facility, located just 10 kilometers off the shore of Haifa, has given rise to concerns of worried citizens, fearing polluting emissions from the gas rig will pose a possible threat to their health and the environment.
A concerned citizen from Ein Ayala, a moshav located south of Haifa, compared Leviathan to BAZAN - an oil refinery in the Haifa port, whose polluting emissions are believed to cause Haifa metropolis's increased rates of cancer.
"They've just put another BAZAN in front of our house," said the citizen. "Haifa has massive rates of cancer and we are afraid the same will happen to us here."
The head of the City Union for Environmental Quality for the region, Nir Sahar, has been monitoring air quality around the gas rig.
He said Tuesday morning that, "benzene rates in the air appear to be normal for the time being."
"Benzene concentrations appear to be very low, quite normal to what we have seen in the past year," said Sahar. "The public can log on to the union's website or app, follow the level of pollutants online and see that the residents' quality of life is preserved."
Research published in October suggests that Noble Energy is “grossly underestimating" its polluting emissions and the possible threat it could pose to the country's environment.
However, the Ministry of Energy gave its final approval to start the production at Leviathan last week after a court lifted a temporary injunction granted over environmental concerns.
The ministry stated that there are no special guidelines for the public and that the impact on air quality in the coastal area is expected to remain low.
Jerusalem's District Court's Judge Eli Abarbanel, who reversed the previous decision, is said to have been convinced by the Ministry of Environmental Protection that Leviathan's work program, and gas output permit, were formulated based on the opinions of certified specialists.