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Emergency shutdown leads to controlled ignition of fire ball at Leviathan rig

An emergency shutdown on Saturday evening at Israel’s offshore Leviathan gas rig caused operators to burn off excess natural gas at the platform in a safety procedure that lit up the sky off the coast with a ball of fire.

The burn-off at the rig, located 9.7 kilometers (six miles) out to sea off Caesarea, was visible to coastal residents.

The rig’s operator Noble Energy initially referred to it as an “operational event” but later said the incident was a false alarm caused by a gas detector failure.

“All the safety systems on the rig are working properly and natural gas production from Leviathan is expected to resume in the coming hours,” Noble said, according to the Reuters news agency.

Noble said they did not expect there to be any environmental impact either on land or at sea.

The Energy Ministry said the natural gas was burned off as part of the “emergency closure.”

Haifa city council member and local green party member Aviahu Han told the Walla news site that there needed to be an immediate investigation into the incident.

“The result of such an event is air pollution and pollutant emissions. It’s time to join forces… to work jointly against the petrochemical tycoons who are polluting us,” said Han.” I call on the chair of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, MK Miki Haimovich, to immediately convene the committee to examine the event and its environmental implications.”

In February, natural gas supplies from the platform were halted for several hours after a power failure, and rig operators also ignited a fireball in that incident.

The rig has faced opposition from local residents, municipal authorities, and environmental groups that want the platform moved further out to sea.

Those opposing the location of the platform include local authorities, the environmental organization Zalul, which seeks to protect the country’s seas and rivers, and Home Guardians, which was created specifically to fight against the platform’s location in the belief that it will adversely affect the health of local communities.

In late December, just before the $3.75 billion Leviathan project began producing gas, Texas-based Noble Energy, whose main partner is Yitzhak Tshuva’s Delek Drilling Ltd, conducted a pilot “commissioning” stage for the processing platform and pipes that included two sessions of so-called cold venting — emitting nitrogen directly into the atmosphere.

Fearful about pollution during the vents, thousands of coastal residents temporarily fled their homes, though government officials insisted there was no danger.

From the beginning of this year and amid the coronavirus crisis, Tshuva’s Delek Group — which focuses on oil and gas and which owes bondholders, mainly large institutions, NIS 6 billion ($1.65 billion) — has lost 79 percent of its value, cutting deep into the money invested for the pensions of ordinary Israelis.

Last week, two of Israel’s biggest pension and insurance companies, Menora Mivtachim and Harel, representing the bondholders, pulled back from the brink of demanding immediate repayment, and instead signed a draft framework that gives Tshuva another year to breathe.

Source: TOI -Stuart Winer and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.