Wednesday, August 27, 2008

COP: Oil Interests Win Out Over Ecology-Israel

Ze'ev Ben-Yechiel

The [Parks Authority] general assembly consists of representatives of different ministries and government offices, including some with ties to oil companies and other private interests.
Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority have approved exploratory oil drilling in a nature reserve, despite opposition from its own science committee and environmentalists.Ginko and Delek Energy Systems were given a green light to drill for oil in the reserve by a general assembly of the Parks Authority. The approval articulated several restrictions on the drilling, aimed at minimizing environmental damage.

The spokesman for the companies, Avraham Poraz - a former Minister of the Interior - convinced the Parks Authority to approve the drilling in a Judean Desert nature reserve, maintaining that “it’s just another place in the desert.” The decision was announced on Tuesday.

The approval stipulated that any oil discovered at the site be pumped diagonally from pumping stations located outside the reserve, in order to minimize ecological damage.

The Parks Authority admitted that its decision was not based on ecological concerns only, but rather takes into account the concerns of different ministries and government offices, including some with ties to oil companies and other private interests.

Ecologists and environmental workers within the Parks Authority decried Tuesday’s decision, citing the extreme ecological sensitivity of the area. They explained that oil drilling requires clearing ground, installing large fuel pumps and employee housing, and creates noise, light and pollution that could irrevocably damage the environment.

The specialists, in a statement objecting to the decision, said, "The drilling and extraction of oil could harm whole populations of rare species. We believe that the foreseen production does not justify the permit to severely and permanently harm plants and wildlife, as well as the landscape and tourists in an official nature reserve."

The oil companies defended the decision of the Parks Authority by playing down the impact on the environment. "I know the area well and it's just another place in the desert," Poraz said.

The companies believe that the site has a potential to produce up to 6.5 million barrels of oil, worth $700 million dollars and which Poraz claimed is strategically important in ending Israel’s dependency on enemy Arab states for its energy needs. “Israel is not rich enough to allow itself to forgo such potential," he said.

Israel’s leading environmental group, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), condemned what they believe to be pandering to entrepreneurs.

"The SPNI is distressed by the fact that members of the Parks Authority assembly who voted in favor of the plan caved in to pressure exerted by the entrepreneurs, did not heed its own science committee's recommendation against the plan, and approved an appeal that will cause needless harm to a nature reserve," said a statement from the group.

Nir Pappay, director of SPNI’s Environmental Protection Division, was also disturbed by “the fact that this will set a precedent for other cases” where the recommendation of environmental experts will be ignored in favor of private interests. Pappay said that the “amount of oil is minimal”, and that moreover, should there is no reason why the exploratory drilling can’t be conducted in a way that minimizes damage to the lands in the nature reserve.

Just as the Parks Authority decision stipulated that oil retrieved for commercial purposes be extracted diagonally, so should any holes drilled for exploration, said Pappay.

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