(photo credit: REUTERS)
Drilling was set to begin at a Golan Heights oil exploration site in the late night hours of Monday, the company announced that evening.
The project, which is being implemented by Afek Oil and Gas, involves three years of exploration for conventional oil using up to 10 wells. The company chose site No. 5 out of 10 to start with, located north of Nahal El Al near Moshav Natur, a former kibbutz on the southern Golan Heights. Preparatory work for the drilling, including rig assembly, began at the end December.
"I'm extremely happy with the work crews, with the quality of the work," Afek Oil CEO Geoffrey Rochwarger told The Jerusalem Post, over the phone from the site, on Monday night.
Although the drilling site is now up and running, the project faced several delays along the way due to environmental opposition.
The project received its exploratory drilling license for a 395-sq.km. plot south of Katzrin in April 2013, followed by approval at the Northern District Committee for Planning and Building on July 24, 2014.
However, on September 1, 2014, Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) and a group of Golan Heights residents submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice, demanding the project's cancellation. In the petition, the complainants wrote that the petroleum in the region is likely “tight oil,” meaning it could require non-conventional drilling procedures such as fracking.
Afek Oil has maintained that the oil in the region is just as likely conventional as tight, and would not necessarily require fracking for extraction. Meanwhile, the permit issued by the Northern District Committee allows only for exploratory drilling in a gradual, site-by-site manner, prohibiting non-conventional oil production.
At the end of September, the High Court issued an order for the temporary cessation of Golan Heights drilling operations, to give the state more time to respond to the petition.
While this order was extended at the end of October, the justices removed the order and dismissed the petitions on December 23.
Just this past Wednesday, Rochwarger said that the site was visited by members of the assigned government oversight committee, who expressed approval with the ongoing preparatory operations there. All in all, drilling at the first site will take about 45 days, he said. While drilling can occur at night as long as the noise remains under a certain number of decibels, work will not occur during Shabbats, Rochwarger explained.
As the exploratory activity occurs, Rochwarger stressed how the activity will constitute "a very important learning well" for the Afek team.
"It's not only a learning well from the perspective that our drilling team will learn the best way the most efficient way to drill, but we will be analyzing the cuttings and samples coming out of the wells almost on a daily basis," he said. "That analysis, which takes a little time, will hopefully give us the first real-time information to match against all of our geologic models, to show us how accurate our models have been to date."
Asked if he feared further environmental opposition at the site, Rochwarger told the Post that the facility actually experienced some sabotage on Monday, in which someone had cut part of the water line and blocked it up with wood.
"We hope that it's an isolated incident," he said, noting that the company has involved the police in the matter.
For the most part, however, Rochwarger said that the site has been receiving far less opposition since the High Court ruling to drop the petitions. Meanwhile, he added, Afek has hired 25 people from the Golan Heights region to work on the site.
"Our hope is that it's only the beginning, and that as the work progresses we will be able to employ additional people," he said. "We believe that this will bring a boost to the economy."