Visitors flock to see oil drilling underway in Golan Heights

During the Passover holiday's intermediate days, around 2,000 people have come for tours of the Afek Oil and Gas drilling site.

Golan oil rig (photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
Golan oil rig
(photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
“Why do we need oil?” veteran hydrocarbons executive Musa Gabay asked a roomful of children and their parents in a cozy trailer propped up behind a southern Golan Heights oil-drilling site.
The responses on Tuesday, which mostly came from preteens from nearby communities, included gasoline, heating, energy, plastics and industry.
“We will be dependent on oil for our lifetime,” said Gabay, vice president of business development at Afek Oil and Gas.
Israel consumes about 250,000 barrels of oil per day, nearly all of which is imported, he explained to the guests.
The 40 people in the makeshift visitors center were among the approximately 2,000 members of the public who signed up for tours of the company’s first Golan Heights drilling site over the intermediate days of Passover.
Located in a pastoral green space just northwest of the Avnei Eitan and Nov moshavim and south of Kibbutz Natur and the town of Katzrin, Ness-5 is the first of up to 10 such sites on the southern Golan Heights where Afek can explore for conventional oil over the next three years.
Exploratory drilling began at the 0.7-hectare (1.7-acre) site in mid-February, and is expected to be complete in the next few weeks, company executives told The Jerusalem Post.
The project received its exploratory drilling license for a 39,500-hectare (97,606.6-acre) zone south of Katzrin 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 the site led by Greenpeace, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and other groups, a High Court of Justice petition Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) filed in September brought about a temporary halt in work – until the petition’s dismissal in December.
As part of an effort to acquaint concerned citizens with the drilling process, the company invited members of the public to visit during Passover.
“They’re curious – they heard there’s an oil project here and have no preconceived notions,” Afek CEO Geoffrey Rochwarger told the Post. “Generally speaking, the people coming are just trying to find out what it’s all about.”
Approaching the rig, Rochwarger gestured to the high-density polyethylene sheet lining the entire area underneath the rig and its associated components.
“Anything that may spill on the ground cannot be absorbed,” he explained.
Around the site, Rochwarger pointed out four measures the company has implemented to minimize noise pollution to the surrounding moshavim, which are 800 to 900 meters away. Since the work cannot exceed 45 decibels of noise, the firm has installed an acoustic wall, the side of an old shipping container, dirt mounds and stacks of cotton bails – the last of which also serve as a visual barrier, he explained.
Adding that “it’s been a very dynamic process,” Rochwarger said the company is actively working with the nearby communities.
The drill functions 24 hours per day, excluding Shabbat and holidays, prior to which the operations shut down at about noon, he said.
Despite the financial loss incurred with such practices, Rochwarger emphasized the importance of doing what the company believes in religiously, as part of the ultimate investment.
As of Tuesday, the drill had reached about 877 meters below ground, indicating that it would reach the target layer of about 1,000 meters in the next day or so, Bartov explained. Then, workers will perform electronic logging operations, followed by laboratory tests.
Regardless of the results, Afek will then move on to its next site, Ness-3, located near the Bnei Yehuda industrial area, further south on the Golan Heights.
Among the visitors to the site was the mayor Katzrin, Dimitry Efratzev, who told the Post that the discovery of oil on the Golan could be a “wonderful miracle” for the region.
“The Golan contributes a lot to the people of Israel – so if it also [can contribute] oil, that’s a good thing,” Efratzev said.
While visiting, the guests heard lectures from Gabay and company chief geologist Prof. Yuval Bartov, saw an explanatory video and donned hardhats to tour the site’s perimeter.
Visitor Dan Goldberger said he came with his young daughter to the site from Moshav Ramat Magshimim, located just to the east, to learn more about exactly what is happening there.
“It can develop [the region], bring jobs, bring prosperity,” he told the Post.
Sapir Herchcovich, 24, and her fiancé, Asaf Levy, 25, came from Jerusalem to both visit the site and vacation in the North.
“It’s a combination of seeing what we studied in real life and seeing how the work here is, and of we want to do it in the future,” said Herchcovich, who studies geology and biology at the Hebrew University.
Levy, who is also studying geology, added, “There is not a lot of drilling activity in Israel – an opportunity to see it is unusual.