After completing operations at its six oil shale experimental drilling sites,
Israel Energy Initiatives has submitted a final assessment of its project’s
environmental impacts to the Environmental Protection Ministry.
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to get the project’s official pilot phase under way in the coming
The report answers 72 questions that the ministry presented to
the company after a previous environmental report in October, and will be made
available to the general public next week on IEI’s website (www.iei-energy.com).
Once the report is available online, the pilot phase will be brought for a
hearing at the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Council, which the
company hopes will occur within a couple of months.
As the liquid oil
supply curve continues to drop on an international level, oil prices will only
rise dramatically, necessitating the development of unconventional oil
productions, IEI CEO Relik Shafir told The Jerusalem Post at a meeting in Tel
Aviv on Monday. Creating oil from shale – a dark sedimentary rock containing
hydrocarbons – is one such unconventional method, and resources are particularly
robust in Israel, Jordan, North America, Russia, Mongolia, China and Australia,
according to Shafir.
IEI was founded by its chief scientist, Dr. Harold
Vinegar, who was formerly chief scientist at Shell Oil in the United States
before coming to Israel with a dream of bringing the country closer to energy
“Our vision is to allow Israel energy independence,” Shafir
said. “This is the vision that brought Harold Vinegar to Israel to make aliya,
and the vision of the company.”
In Israel’s case, the largest source of
shale is in the Shfela basin region outside Jerusalem, where the hydrocarbons
are located between 200 and 400 meters below the surface, beneath an impermeable
layer of rock and enmeshed between 70-some-odd-million-year-old
To produce oil, the company must drill a production pipeline
surrounded by a ring of heating wells, which gradually heat the rock over the
course of nine months to 300º C and thereby transform it into lightweight oil in
situ. At the pre-pilot phase sites, the last of which – Zoharim – the Post
visited in June, the company extracted the shale without using heaters, and sent
the oily rock to laboratories at Ben-Gurion University and the US for
During the pilot phase, which will consist of one drilling site
and production facility in the northern part of the Shfela, IEI plans to extract
500 barrels of oil – 2 barrels per day – from this year through
Once further drilling has been approved by the National Planning
and Building Committee, a demonstration phase will produce about 2,000 barrels a
day from 2016 through 2019, and by 2020, the commercial phase will yield 50,000
barrels a day for about 25 years, according to Shafir.
about $10 billion worth of oil per year. Oil shale production would bring the
country $5b. per year through taxes and royalties, he said.
benefits of shale do not simply lie in finances and security, according to
Shafir, who stressed that the drilling and production was environmentally
“Our technique of production is a little safer and puts out less
carbon dioxide than crude oil production,” Shafir said.
The pilot phase
will be located in a secluded area in the northern part of the Shfela basin that
is as environmentally insensitive as possible, he explained.
commercial production will never occur in this area, and will be in an even more
remote location, a promise that Shafir made to the Environmental Protection
Ministry and included in the environmental report.
heaters will not affect surface plants and animals, he said.
at the pilot site will take place – and heat – 200 meters below the surface, and
the heat dissipates after nine meters.
“Rock is a bad conductor,” Shafir
There was no chance that the hydrocarbons would be flow into the
aquifer that sits approximately 900 meters below the earth’s surface, he said.
The layer in between the shale and the aquifer is impermeable and can not be
fractured by drilling pressure, as the pressure of the production mechanism is
only half the pressure of the natural surface 300 meters below the surface,
according to Shafir. In addition, the deeper that one drills, the higher the
pressure needs to be to fracture a rock, he added, using the analogy that a roof
of a home might collapse while the base stood solid.
however, that the company would have to “continuously show that we are not
putting the aquifer at risk.”
While certain NGOs, particularly
Greenpeace, have launched ardent campaigns against the oil shale drilling and
production, which they charge will damage the aquifer, Shafir said these
complaints are invalid.
“Greenpeace had picked on the fact that the water
in the aquifer may be in danger by our technology,” he said. “That was a
bad strategic move because they could not find a single geologist or hydrologist
to corroborate their claims.”
Rather than using data about in situ oil
shale drilling, Greenpeace has used information regarding gas shale drilling, a
explosive process that takes place far beneath where oil shale extraction does –
at 3,000 meters down rather than 300 meters – that is entirely unrelated to oil
shale production, according to Shafir.
The Greenpeace information, he
stressed, “is totally misleading the public and using totally erroneous data
that has nothing to do with us.”
Representatives of the Environmental
Protection Ministry, the Health Ministry and the Water Authority have already
been convinced that the aquifer would not be affected, he
“Nonetheless, we need to prove this in the pilot itself by drilling
down below and showing that there are no hydrocarbons that are sipping down,” he
Shafir said there was no possibility of a fire underground, as
there was no oxygen there. The landscape above the surface, he argued, would be
easy to reclaim, as the drilling sites are small. At an experimental drilling
site completed in November 2010, the area was already fully grassy by the
While there will be methane gas emissions, these will be
minimal, and currently cannot be trapped and reconverted back into usable fuel
oil – as was done in Qatar – as such a mechanism costs $20b. to build,
The pilot phase will require electric heating for about a
year, in which the heat is gradually increased by one degree per day –
equivalent to the energy consumption of a mid-size urban office building. In the
commercial phase, the heating will rely on a much more environmentally friendly
combination of molten salt and natural gas.
Far outweighing any adverse
ecological effects, Shafir argued, would be the positive impacts of oil shale
production on Israel, which would no longer need to be “strangled” by its energy
“The whole idea is energy independence for Israel,” he said.
“This is the beginning and this is the end.”