Oil drilling permit extended in Golan

Since February, Afek has completed drilling at two sites and nearly finished work at a third.

Golan oil rig (photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
Golan oil rig
(photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)
Despite the protests of environmental activists, the Northern District Committee for Planning and Building approved a two-year extension on Afek Oil and Gas’s exploratory oil drilling permit in the Golan Heights.
Monday’s approval followed the company’s application request for a two-year extension on its existing one-year permit, through which its teams are able to explore for conventional oil at up to 10 sites within a 39,500-hectare zone south of Katzrin. Although the company received a three-year drilling license from the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry for its project in April 2013, the necessary permit issued by the Northern District Committee in July 2014 only covered a one-year period, which began in February of this year.
Following Monday’s committee decision, members of the public now have a 60-day period to file objections.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the decision of the committee,” Michael Jonas, CEO of Afek alongside Geoffrey Rochwarger, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“I want to thank all of the committee members for their professionalism, dedication and deep understanding of the issues that were being considered in our application, and for reaching the right decision.”
Since February, Afek has completed drilling at two sites and nearly finished work at a third. Although the company announced in both May and July the presence of hydrocarbons at its first two sites, the firm maintains that it has not yet determined the volume of resources and to what extent they may be obtainable, and that the resources do not yet constitute proven or probable reserves.
On Monday afternoon, a company statement pledged that the firm would continue working transparently, together with all relevant authorities and the government-appointed project monitoring team.
“We’re committed to continue doing the most professional job,” Jonas said. “We’re not going to be rushed into doing a non-thorough exploration.”
In response to Monday’s decision, environmental organizations promised to continue fighting against plans that they feel could be detrimental to the land and water resources in the Golan Heights.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel voiced intentions to submit objections to the committee.
“Activities to preserve the Golan Heights and Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) have just begun – there will be no oil industry in the Golan Heights,” a statement from SPNI said.
Although Afek received its original one-year permit from the Northern District Committee in July 2014, the company only began drilling operations in February of this year, due to six months of delays stemming from environmental opposition.
In addition to protests outside the drilling sites led by Greenpeace, SPNI and other groups, a High Court of Justice petition that Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) filed in September temporarily halted the work. Nonetheless, the High Court dismissed the petition in December.
On Monday, Adam Teva V’Din announced plans to turn to the High Court of Justice, accusing the Northern District Committee of operating with questionable legality by issuing the extension. The organization argued that according to the Petroleum Law, a district committee does not have the authority to extend the permit.
In recent days, Adam Teva V’Din had turned to the country’s attorney-general, requesting that Monday’s discussion in the committee be canceled and that Afek be required to submit a comprehensive plan if the company wants to continue drilling beyond the allotted time frame.
“We will not accept a situation in which the health of residents becomes worthless,” said Orly Ariav, head of environment and community at Adam Teva V’Din.
On the other hand, a letter submitted to the project monitoring committee by Dr. Yaakov Lifshitz, head of the Water Authority’s Hydrological Service reported that thus far “there are no indications that the drilling activities cause damage to water sources.” This conclusion, he explained, was drawn following a Hydrological Service staff meeting on October 26 to review monitoring results.
“During the discussions, the need for further monitoring activities was made clear,” Lifshitz wrote.
The recommendations that arise from the continued monitoring efforts would be conveyed to the company, he added.
In May, Afek concluded drilling at its first well, Ness-5, near Katzrin. About two months later, work was completed at Ness-3, near the Bnei Yehuda industrial area. At both sites, the company announced that initial analyses indicated the presence of hydrocarbons in the vertical drilling sections. At the end of August, work began on a third site, Ness-6, located near the entrance of Moshav Kanaf.