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 on Monday morning, demanding the repeal of exploratory oil drilling plans for the southeastern portion of that region.
These plans, approved by the Northern District Committee for Planning and Building on July 24, are set to be conducted by Afek Oil and Gas and involve three years of exploratory drilling for conventional oil through 10 wells. Following a favorable recommendation from the Petroleum Council in February 2013, Afek received its exploratory drilling license in April of that year for a 395-sq. km. plot south of Katzrin.
Afek Oil is a subsidiary of the New Jersey-based Genie Energy Ltd., which is also the parent company of Israel Energy Initiatives – the firm that holds the license for an oil shale project in the south-central Shfela basin.
The fate of the latter project is slated to be determined in the Jerusalem District Committee for Planning and Building on Tuesday.
Although unrelated to each other, both projects have grown to be highly contentious among environmentalists and residents of each respective region.
Upon approving the Golan Heights plans in July, the Interior Ministry said that the Northern District Committee elected to issue the permit with the support of the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Water Authority, after hearing a wide range of opinions from opposing residents and green group representatives.
The committee stressed at the time that the exploratory drilling would not involve any fracking and would not include the production of any oil that is not in liquid form.
The permit allows the drilling to occur in a gradual manner, in order to enable an examination team to ensure that all operations are occurring safely, the committee said. Only if oil is found in commercial quantities and is then deemed by the Energy Ministry to be a discovery, could Afek Oil then submit a detailed plan for the committee’s approval regarding commercial drilling.
In the petition filed to the High Court on Monday, Adam Teva V’Din wrote that the oil in the region is likely tight oil that requires unconventional drilling procedures such as fracking to extract the oil. Such drilling involves the use of large quantities of water as well as chemicals, and the by-products can pollute the groundwater, the group argued. In addition, fracking is likely to lead to considerable underground fluctuations, and this area of the Golan Heights already is characterized by seismic sensitivity, the Adam Teva V’Din petition said.
“This means that any intervention in the soil subsurface could cause considerable damage, and that the potential risk is severe and significant to, among other things, the water sector and public health in Israel,” the petition said.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post in early July, however, Afek Oil CEO Geoffrey Rochwarger said that the oil could just as likely be conventional, not tight. Even if the oil was found to be tight, Rochwarger stressed that it does not necessarily require fracking for extraction. Yet if fracking was required, processes for the technology are not the same as they were decades ago, he added.
Aside from this disputed issue, Adam Teva V’Din deputy director Keren Halperin- Museri, who authored the organization’s petition, said that representatives of professional bodies like Mekorot and the managers of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) were not present at the Northern District Committee vote.
She slammed the committee members for approving the plans without involving their opinions in the environmental assessment of the project and without updating many of them at all.
Meanwhile, Adam Teva V’Din executive director Amit Bracha accused the government of acting in recent years with a “split personality” – on one hand asserting the importance of developing clean energy, while on the other hand granting licenses to private developers that would only position Israel “at the top of the most polluted countries.”
Several Knesset members, including MKs Dov Henin (Hadash), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), have been critical of the plans in the past few months. Henin has particularly expressed concerns for the fate of the Kinneret, while Zandberg has criticized the licensing and permitting procedures for lacking transparency.
Lipman, meanwhile, has argued that Israel has the ability to produce 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2040 and therefore may not need these potential oil reserves.
In response to Monday’s petition, Afek Oil and Gas said that “these are recycled claims that have already been widely discussed in the district committee and in the High Court.”
“The claims were rejected by the professionals,” the Afek statement added. “The Afek company is proud to lead the national project for oil exploration in the Golan. We hope that these searches will bear fruit and will lead the State of Israel to independence and energy security.”
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