just don’t say the word “shale”, that would be the last straw

Israel Court Throws Out Objections, Lets Oil Drilling Start in Syria’s Golan
Jason Ditz, AntiWar.com, Dec 23 2014

The Israeli High Court has thrown out the last objections from environmental groups and approved Afek Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of politically well-connected Genie Israel, to begin exploratory drilling in the Golan Heights. Genie Israel is run by retired Israeli General Effi Eitam, who famously declared Plastelinans to be “creatures who came out of the depths of darkness,” and predicted Israel would eventually have to kill them all. The company also has a “strategic advisory board” that includes Rupert Murdoch and other well-connected international individuals, and formerly also included Dick Cheney. The move to drill in Golan faced its biggest obstacle within Israel from the environmentalist movement, but a much bigger problem is that the Golan Heights are considered, per UNSCR 242, Israeli-occupied territory that actually belongs to Syria. Afek got around environmental complaints by arguing that they’re only drilling for exploration, not production, but is expected to move toward commercial production in a few years.

I have to say it, even though Jason didn’t: the company does not know whether it is looking for shale oil or what – RB

Golan exploratory oil drilling to begin within the month
Melanie Lidman, Times of Israel, Dec 23 2014

Afek Oil and Gas will begin exploratory drilling for oil in the Golan Heights in the next three to four weeks, after the High Court of Justice threw out a petition on Tuesday from environmentalist group Adam Teva ve-Din to stop the oil exploration. On Sep 11, the Northern Regional Planning and Building Committee approved a project for the exploratory drilling of ten wells in the Golan Heights. But immediately afterwards, environmentalist group Adam Teva ve-Din, along with a number of local residents, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice claiming that Afek did not provide enough information about the methods it will use to extract the oil commercially. Afek countered that the company must first drill to determine the kind of oil in the Golan before it can submit a plan for commercial extraction. On Sep 30, as Afek began the preparation work for drilling, Adam Teva ve-Din petitioned the High Court, which issued an immediate stop work injunction. On Tuesday, the High Court threw out most of the petition because the current approval from the Planning Committee is for exploratory drilling only, not for commercial production. However, environmental activists who filled the courtroom on Tuesday left the court encouraged by the judge’s clear delineation of exploratory drilling and commercial production. Lihi Goldenberg, who is the director of the Economy, Environment, and Natural Resources Department at Adam Teva ve-Din, aka the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, explained:

The danger is that they could go directly into the production stage without getting the proper approvals. The Megged drilling site near Rosh ha-Ayin is caught in this limbo between exploratory and commercial production. Although the site is not approved to extract oil commercially, it has produced 600,000 barrels of oil since 2011, far exceeding the needs of “exploration.” Today, the judges gave us the possibility to stop production, a clear and obvious way to stop it. This means that production can’t start until it goes to the Planning Committee, and the Planning Committee will be sure to have all of the additional information about water issues and other environmental problems. We feel confident that the approval from the Planning Committee for commercial drilling will take years, adding significant delays to Afek’s project.

The judges specified that Afek could produce a “limited number” of barrels from each well, which the environmentalists chose to interpret as less than 10 barrels per well, though no concrete number was specified. However, Afek CEO Geoff Rochwarger said:

The judges said in essence that what Afek has said and committed is the truth. What I see is an affirmation of our research data that we put forward, that what we represented in the beginning is in fact the truth. It’s unfortunate that it took this long, but I’m excited.“I’m optimistic that since now we can finally begin the work. With each day we can work, it brings us closer to finding out finally what kind of oil is there for Israel.

Activists from the environmental movements and Golan residents opposed to the plan filled the courtroom to capacity. Outside the court, Greenpeace activists dressed in white Hazmat suits showed giant pictures of the recent oil spill in the Arava. During the 60-day period of the approval process for the exploration project, when the public could file opposition to the project, activists and Golan residents filed 900 public oppositions to Afek’s drilling plans. The Planning Committee eventually dismissed almost all of them, but the residents are still angry and worried. Kinneret Belzer, a resident of Kfar Harov in the Golan, explained:

We’re not against the exploration as such, we’re against drilling. The problem is, in the past, once they’ve discovered oil, they’ve gone right on to production.

The Northern Regional Planning and Building Committee approved a project for exploratory drilling in the Golan Heights in 152 square miles, starting in Katzrin and extending southward. This permit area represents about 33% of the 463 square miles that make up the Golan Heights. The area for exploration delineates areas where Afek has permission to drill, though each well has an average footprint of 1.7 acres. The exploration program allows Afek to drill 10 wells in order to search for oil, which its experts believe exists in a conventional liquid form and not the oil shale compound. However, they won’t know until they drill. The company is not yet sure what exactly it will find, or even if it will find oil at all. Since Israel’s founding, companies searching for oil across Israel have drilled 530 exploratory wells, and none of them has turned up commercially viable oil, Rochwarger said in September.

Genie Israel is the parent company of Afek, and Rochwarger is the CEO of both Afek and Genie Israel. Genie is also the parent company of Israel Energy Initiatives, which failed in a project denied a pilot program for a controversial new technology to extract oil shale in the Judean lowlands near Beit Shemesh. Genie Israel is chaired by Howard Jonas, and has some heavyweight investors. Dick Cheney, Michael Steinhardt, Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch are all reportedly connected to the company. It also has connections within the Israeli political establishment. The chairman of Genie Israel is Effie Eitam, a former member of Knesset who also served as the minister of national infrastructures in 2002-2003. Although Tuesday’s hearing took place less than a month after the worst oil spill in Israel’s history, the Arava disaster did not have much impact on Tuesday’s discussion, since the Arava spill came from a pipe transporting oil, which is different from oil drilling. Rochwarger said:

Even though there is absolutely no connection whatsoever, I was concerned that this would be an opportunity that the general public would misunderstand and try to draw connections.

Afek will start exploratory drilling at a site called Oil 5, which is located next to the town of Avnei Eitan, southwest of two reservoirs and in between two small rivers. For the next few weeks, they will complete the preparation work like building fences around the site. The drilling at the first site will last two to three months, to a depth of 3,900 to 6,500 feet. If it discovers oil, Afek will use a variety of techniques to remove the oil and explore the possibility of commercial production in that area. Then it will cover the well to remove physical evidence of its existence, and move on to the next exploratory drill site. The exploratory stage is expected to take two to three years. Afek would then return to the Northern Regional Planning and Building Committee with their plan for commercial production of oil, and the court cases will begin anew.

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