Still too soon to determine production potential of Golan Heights oil

Afek Oil and Gas say findings have so far revealed a ‘very robust oil-bearing strata’

October 7, 2015 21:48
4 minute read.
Oil drilling site on the Golan Heights

Oil drilling site on the Golan Heights. (photo credit: AFEK OIL AND GAS)

While numerous Israeli media outlets reported huge Golan Heights oil discoveries on Wednesday morning, it remains to be seen whether these hydrocarbons are actually extractable and usable.

Although Afek Oil and Gas announced in both May and July the presence of hydrocarbons at two of its Golan Heights drilling sites, the company stressed at the time – and continues to maintain – that the volume of resources and to what extent they may be obtainable has not yet been determined, and that the resources do not constitute proven, probable, or even possible reserves at this point.

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Afek Oil, controlled by the New Jersey-based firm Genie Energy, holds a license to explore for conventional oil at up to 10 sites on the southern Golan Heights, within a 39,500-hectare zone south of Katzrin, over the next three years.

In May, the company concluded drilling at its first well, Ness-5, located just northwest of the Avnei Eitan and Nov moshavim and south of Kibbutz Natur and the town of Katzrin. About two months later, work was completed at Ness-3, near the Bnei Yehuda industrial area. At both sites, the company announced that initial analyses indicated the presence of hydrocarbons in the vertical drilling sections.

At the end of August, work began on a third site, Ness-6, located near the entrance of Moshav Kanaf, just southeast of Gamla.
Regarding the findings at all of its wells thus far, the company said that it has “encountered very robust oil-bearing strata.”

Following a Channel 2 interview on Tuesday evening headlined with the words “amazing discovery in the Golan Heights,” many Israeli news sites on Wednesday morning likewise contained similar hype, despite the fact that the company had not announced any new developments regarding the production potential of the oil contained there.

“We are talking about a 350-meter-thick stratum, and what matters is its thickness and the porosity,” Dr. Yuval Bartov, chief geologist of Afek Oil, told Channel 2 on Tuesday night. “On average globally, strata are 20 to 30 meters thick. Here, it is 10 times that of other places, and because of that we are talking about significant quantities. What is important is to know that the oil is within the rock, and that’s what we now know.”

The Channel 2 item went on to explain how the sizable amount of hydrocarbons identified in the wells thus far have “dramatic potential production” and a “theoretical possibility” of fulfilling Israel’s daily oil consumption needs of 270,000 barrels. The article goes on to emphasize, however, that whether the oil is easily extractable and usable remains to be seen.

The Afek Oil project first received its exploratory drilling license in April 2013, followed by the approval of the Northern District Committee for Planning and Building in July 2014.

In the six months that followed, however, the company faced delays due to environmental opposition. In addition to protests outside its Ness-5 site led by Greenpeace, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and other groups, a High Court of Justice petition that Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) filed in September temporarily halted the work. Nonetheless, the High Court dismissed the petition in December.

Following the court decision, Afek was able to begin its drilling work in February this year, starting at the time with the Ness-5 site.

Environmental campaigns against the project have continued since, including on Wednesday, following the Channel 2 report.
“Declarations of oil discoveries in the Golan Heights are a deception, and are misleading the public,” said Mor Gilboa, CEO of the national student environmental movement, Green Course.

Despite the company’s repeated reminders that its permits only allow for exploratory drilling and prohibit nonconventional oil production, Gilboa asserted that the type of oil found in the wells would likely prove to be “tight” and necessitate nonconventional fracking methods. Afek has long maintained, however, that the oil found in the Golan is just as likely conventional as tight and would not necessarily require fracking for extraction.

“The oil industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world and one of the main causes of the climate crisis, which has already been recognized by most of the world’s governments, including the government of Israel, as one of the greatest challenges facing people today,” Gilboa said.

In response to Green Course’s assertion on Wednesday, a statement from Afek Oil said that the company “requested and received a license from the State of Israel for liquid oil and gas in the Golan Heights, and that any other claim – especially the claim that this is tight or inferior oil – is baseless regarding the production method and is truly throwing dust in the eyes of the public.”

“As can also be seen in the story broadcast on Channel 2, we are proud to be leading the national project of searching for ‘blue and white’ Israeli liquid oil,” the company added.

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