Leviathan Gas Field to Start Up Monday; Court Lifts Injunction

TEL AVIV, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Israel's energy ministry gave its final approval for the start of production at the giant Leviathan gas field and said the wells will open early on Monday after a court lifted a temporary injunction granted over environmental concerns.

(photo: Delek Drilling)

Rescinding Tuesday's injunction, the Jerusalem District Court said on Thursday appellants had not provided sufficient evidence that Leviathan's emissions, in its start-up phase, could prove dangerous. It also cited reassurances provided by government representatives as to precautions taken at the site.

However, the court left open the possibility of a further hearing on the issue.

"The Leviathan partners welcome the court's decision to lift the temporary restraining order and allow us to begin flowing gas from the Leviathan reservoir," they said in a statement.

The Energy Ministry said the wells will open on Monday at 0200 (midnight GMT) and the natural gas will reach the pipeline 13 hours later. For a number of hours there will be limited emissions of nitrogen and then nitrogen mixed with gas, the ministry said.

"Based on experts' estimates and models acceptable in the world, the change in air quality ... is expected to be small," the ministry said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the Jerusalem court, in a surprise decision, issued a temporary order that barred any gas emissions from Leviathan, effectively putting the project, which was due to come on line this month, on hold.

The companies, led by Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel's Delek Drilling, have already signed major, multi-billion dollar deals for exports to Egypt and Jordan.

The field was discovered a decade ago about 120 km (75 miles) off Israel's coast. But its towering production platform was constructed just 10 km from the shore.

Environmental activists and municipalities located near where the pipeline comes ashore had tried unsuccessfully - including at the country's Supreme Court - to block the plan and force it to be built further out at sea.

The latest petition to halt the process was brought by several municipalities and an environmental group against the project's operator, Noble, and Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry.

"The natural gas from Leviathan will improve Israel's air quality by displacing coal, improve Israel's environment, provide security of supply and create unprecedented commercial ties in the region," the Leviathan partners said.

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