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The National Infrastructures Ministry's Fuel Authority is drafting a strategy to reduce Israel's dependency on petroleum and plans to present it to the relevant ministries on November 20.
The document, entitled "Sustainable Development of Energy for Transportation and the Reduction of Oil Dependency," will be presented to officials from the Transportation, Finance, Infrastructures, and Environment ministries. The Fuel Authority - which has only six staffers - has considered ideas ranging from "Green tax" incentives for fuel efficient and low emission vehicles to banning the import of offending vehicles, to exempting alternative fuels from tax.
While no concrete measures have been prepared, these ideas are under advanced consideration.
Israel's per capita oil consumption of 0.043 barrels per day ranks 35th in the world, according to the CIA's World Factbook. In the past, Israel imported oil from Egypt, the North Sea, West Africa, and Mexico. According to officials at the Ministry of National Infrastructures, Israel now imports 90% of its oil from Russia and the Caspian region.
Israel consumes about 80 million barrels of oil annually - 270,100 barrels per day - 42nd of 211 countries.
The academic and private sectors are also moving on the issue. This week, the University of Haifa opened the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, and next week, Tel Aviv University hosts a conference on Renewable and Alternative Energy.
Omer Selah of the Fuel Authority, 34, the man National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has tasked with reducing the country's dependence on petroleum products, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview this week that although Israel was a minor player on the world energy stage, it could nevertheless be a "light to the nations" by reducing its dependence on oil. He admits, however, that totally eliminating petroleum imports is highly unlikely.
"Even though Israel's [oil] consumption is low, relative to the major powers, [the way we reduce our dependency on oil] could have a powerful moral effect on the international stage," he said.
Israel was an island in terms of energy infrastructure, he said. "We are on our own here, and if something breaks down, we can't hop onto our neighbor's energy resources.
"The issue of oil becomes more and more critical with each passing year, for Western democracies in general, and for Israel in particular. What we are seeing is a confluence of several negative factors and processes in this region. And the Infrastructures Ministry is tasked with working to reduce Israel's dependency on oil through various means.
"A huge percentage of the world's oil reserves, and this shows you where oil dependency is going to come from in the future, is found in the possession of powers not friendly to the West or to Israel. These can take the form of radical Islamic regimes, or even moderate Islamic regimes that have no diplomatic relations with Israel, therefore it's difficult to trust them.
"Iran's growing influence is becoming more pronounced within all this. Iran itself has about 10 percent of the world's oil reserves. Iran may also have influence on oil found in other Shi'ite areas in the future, like those areas in [southern] Iraq.
"Iraq also has roughly 10% of the world's oil reserves - and it's not certain at this stage which direction Iraq will take: toward a moderate democracy with diplomatic ties with Israel, or in the direction of extremism.
"We can't tell right now. In addition, and to our great regret, Venezuela, a country that until recently has had no dispute with Israel, has suddenly joined with our worst enemies, because of oil. Oil is financing Iran's actions everywhere, including Hizbullah's activities," Selah said.
"Israel doesn't import oil from the Arab world, not directly, anyway. Israel buys most of its oil from Russia and the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine. This area, too, has its problems. Just look at what is happening these days between Russia and Georgia."
All Selah would say about oil and the Israel-Russia relationship was that "it's never a good idea to rely on only one supplier of a commodity."
Selah's would like to substitute 5% of petroleum products consumed here with ethanol products, and thinks this can be done within five years. He would also like 5% of diesel fuel to be replaced by biodiesel products.
It doesn't matter where the ethanol and bio-diesel come from, here or abroad. For Selah, the most important thing is that Israelis start using less oil.
And where is the best place to start? Road transportation. Cars, motorbikes, buses and trucks account for just over 51% of Israeli petroleum consumption. Industry comes in second at 31%; air transport consumes 12%; and 6% goes gas produced from petroleum that is used in homes and restaurants.
Selah wants to see the transportation sector use much more electricity. "Electricity, the ability to stop at the side of the road and charge up your vehicle, could be one of the long-term solutions for oil dependency in the transportation sector," Selah said. "The important thing is to change people's habits."
The average Israeli "drinks" more than two liters of oil products per day, Selah said. "In the US, Canada and Australia that number is much higher," he said, because their cars are bigger, and so are the distances.
Selah is just as passionate about the environmental effects of oil consumption as he is about the geopolitical aspects.
"We need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to use clean fuels. It is also a health issue," he said.
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