To the distress of environmental activists, the Tel Aviv District Committee for Planning and Building approved an exploratory oil drilling application for the Gabriela reservoir, located about 19 kilometers west of the Herzliya Marina.
The purpose of the drilling is to look for oil in the reservoir and potentially derive commercial quantities from the basin, an Interior Ministry statement said.
During the discussion, the district committee members heard the objections filed by the city of Herzliya, the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI), the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and environmental group Zalul, as well as the positions of professional bodies from the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Energy and Water Ministry and the developer, Adira Energy. In the end, the committee decided to approve the request, stressing the interest of balancing the needs of developing the country’s resources and maintaining the marine environment, the Interior Ministry added.
Gabriela, according to Adira Energy, has a total of approximately 110.1 million barrels of contingent oil reserves as well as about 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas. The exploration there is slated to begin in the second quarter of this year, the company’s CEO Jeffrey Walter told The Jerusalem Post in an October interview. From Gabriela, Adira estimates that it would be able to produce enough oil for 10 years – about 50,000 barrels daily during its three years of peak production, the company said.
As far as environmental concerns go, Walter had stressed that drilling occurs all over the world without spills, and that Israel’s need for 238,000 barrels of oil daily must be fulfilled somewhere.
This oil, he stressed, currently sits in tankers on the Ashdod and Haifa coastlines, equally prone to spillages. By bringing drilling rigs to Gabriela, Walter said that the company will actually be creating a hub for coral and algae growth – attracting fish to feed in the region.
The country’s green activists did not agree, however, that this project would be environmentally friendly.
“Drilling is scheduled to take place in the heart of a preserved marine reserve, one of the four reserves located in Israel’s Mediterranean waters,” a statement from SPNI said, pointing to the unique habitat that characterizes this region.
“An absurd situation has been created where the State of Israel, by means of the Nature and Parks Authority, advances nature preservation on one hand, while on the other hand, the planning body of the Interior Ministry approves drilling there, at a time when the State of Israel is not prepared to deal with a glitch or disaster as a result of this drilling.”
Zalul likewise condemned the approval, emphasizing that Israel lacks the equipment and skilled manpower required to properly handle a spill situation. The Mediterranean Sea, the organization said, must not simply be exploited on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“Alongside the financial potential, the environmental and economic risk is clear,” said Zafrir Gidron, sea coordinator for Zalul. “The country is not prepared to prevent the risk or control an oil spill. Drilling must occur in a responsible manner, only after the state guarantees that all the steps for disaster prevention have been [implemented].”