Israel: the potash industry and the Dead Sea

Both the Israeli potash manufacturer Dead Sea Works and the Jordanian Arab Potash Company pump out water from the Dead Sea for their evaporation pools. The Dead Sea is considered one of the natural wonders of the world. Because of the industrial activity, millions of tonnes of salt are left annually on the floor of these pools in the southern shores, causing the water to rise 20 centimeters a year. The Israeli Dead Sea tourism revenue totaled some US$300 million last year, propping up an industry that accounts for thousands of jobs in a part of the country that otherwise offers limited employment opportunities. But it has been calculated that without some kind of intervention, in five to 10 years, the water would flood the Israeli hotel lobbies. Half of the 3.45 million tourists to Israel paid a stop there in 2010. Almost 200,000 stayed in the 4,000 hotel rooms along the lake. Locals flock there too, with more than 630,000 – or almost one in 10 Israelis – spending time at Dead Sea hotels last year.

A Dead Sea Preservation Government Company (HELI) report concluded that the salt accumulated on the south basin of the Dead Sea must be harvested in order to foil the threat of flooding.

In the Dead Sea’s northern basin the water level is dropping and a barren, pockmarked moonscape has replaced sandy beaches. The World Bank is studying a decades-old proposal to replenish the northern Dead Sea’s waters by channeling water through a canal from the Red Sea, more than 160 kilometers south. With costs estimated at up to $15 billion and the environmental side effects unpredictable, the Red-Dead canal is unlikely to be built any time soon. The Dead Sea Works says it could dredge the salt from the evaporation pools and send it north, and is negotiating with the government about its share in the project costs.

Dead Sea Works belongs to Israel Chemicals, it is the sixth global potash producer and the second one in Western Europe, and has a capacity of about 5 million tonnes potash, including the Spanish IP, purchased in 1998, and the English CPL, acquired in May 2002. The Arab Potash Co. has a capacity of 2.4 million tonnes is planning to produce at above its nameplate capacity this year, as it continues to fine-tune its solar evaporation and refining facilities on the Dead Sea shores. Estimated production in 2010 was of 2.1 million tonnes KCl for Israel and 1.2 million for Jordan.

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