Gas rig in the Mediterranean
Gas rig in the Mediterranean Israel news photo: Flash 90

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis has ordered the state to explain why natural gas exports were capped at 40 percent without involving the Knesset. The court convened Thursday to hear a petition that demanded the decision be repealed until it could be considered by the Knesset plenum. 

Licensees of the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields were given a green light to begin arranging for exports of several hundred billion cubic meters of gas, after the High Court refused last month to issue an order to halt exports. The decision was given based on the petition filed by four MKs and several environmental and social policy groups who oppose the exports.

The groups had asked for an injunction on any efforts by the licensees to export gas until a thorough hearing of the matter by the Court. According to Justice Noam Solberg, preparing an infrastructure or system for export would not be greatly affected one way or the other at this point, since the licensees had a great deal of work to do if they wanted to export gas. “I don't how an injunction would make much of a difference,” considering that the full hearing would take place at the end of July or the beginning of August," he said at the time.

The Cabinet passed a decision in June that 540 billion cubic meters of natural gas would be kept in reserve for domestic use, while the remainder could be used for export.

On Thursday, Judge Grunis said, “The hearing will proceed as if a temporary injunction had been issued,” adding that he would request that the panel of three judges be expanded to include more, before proceeding further.

The petition filed by The College of Law and Business, the Israel Energy Forum, the Calcala Bat-Kaima (Sustainable Economy) organization and a host of lawmakers from the opposition, complained that the Cabinet had taken the matter into its own hands.

“Despite the enormous importance of the decision and despite the obligation to anchor it in the legislative framework of the Knesset, the Israeli government refrained from taking the requested democratic side and decided to avoid bringing the subject for a democratic, transparent and comprehensive discussion in the Knesset.”

In its response, the government said it was authorized to decide the percentage of natural gas retained for local use, under clause 33 of the Petroleum Law. 

The government decision was based on the recommendations of a committee headed by the director-general of the Energy and Water Resources Ministry, Shaul Tzemach. After the issue had been debated by a government committee for a year and a half, said Tzemach, it was determined that 450 billion cubic meters of natural gas would suffice for 25 years – and the cabinet raised the amount still further, by another 20 percent, for good measure.