Activists protest oil shale project at Knesset

Developer says shale is a "national treasure," mining will cause no harm to Israel's natural resources.

Greenpeace protesters outside the Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Greenpeace protesters outside the Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
About 100 people wearing fluffy bunny ears gathered for a picnic-style protest in Jerusalem’s Wohl Rose Garden at Wednesday noontime, to voice their objections to the oil shale project proposed for Israel’s Adullam region.
Many of the protesters had walked 40 kilometers that morning from Adullam to Jerusalem – with others joining at the Jerusalem International Convention Center – ending up in the green nook overlooking the Knesset, where pet dogs were happily romping around and hopping on activists’ laps.  Among the protesters were members of Greenpeace, "For Adullam" group, Adam Teva V'Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), Green Course and Life and Environment, as well as Adullam-area residents.
“It’s the most beautiful region in Israel,” said Hallel Shahar, an artist who lives in Moshav Zafririm for the past 12 years and has his studio there. “Every summer is getting warmer and now they want to heat the land to 300-degrees.”
The in-situ oil shale process works in such a way that heating drills gradually melt the shale to temperatures of 300-degrees Celsius over the course of three years, in a process that causes no harm to the aquifer below and minimal damage to the surface above, the company responsible for the oil shale project, Israel Energy Initiatives (IEI) has explained to The Jerusalem Post in the past.
In Hallel’s opinion as a local resident, however, there is no way to know what permanent damage heating the underground to such temperatures must cause on the area.
“I think it 110 percent will destroy all the plants and trees whose roots are under the soil,” he told the Post, noting that he is afraid the activity will turn the region into an “ecological Holocaust.”
“I live in this place and I see all the animals – it’s the most ecological place in Israel,” he said.
Hallel advocated holding protests actually in his hometown Ela Valley area, particularly on Saturdays when thousands of tourists fill the region, rather than additional such demonstrations in front of a government building.
 “In this country nothing happens if you put on pink ears of a rabbit and stand in front of the Knesset,” he said.
In addition to the pink bunny ears, many of the protesters were sporting shirts that read “we are not bunnies in an oil shale experiment,” with the Hebrew phrase “we are not bunnies” equivalent to the English phrase “we are not guinea pigs.” As of the afternoon, the activists had garnered 17,505 signatures to their online "Oil Shame" petition, which features the same slogan as the t-shirt, with the logo of a bunny with an X over its mouth.
Calling the oil shale project a “dangerous experiment,” Greenpeace campaign manager Hila Krupsky said that the public needs to continue to influence decision-makers, through modes such as the petition.
“Even the company says when you start an experiment you don’t know how it’s going to end,” Krupsky told the Post after the demonstration, stressing that accidents do happen.
While she acknowledged that oil shale drilling has occurred in Colorado, this state has many open fields; whereas, the State of Israel’s small size makes experimenting with rare open space in such a way quite irresponsible, she argued.
“Here we don’t have so many natural resources that we can risk this,” Krupsky said.
It is the responsibility of the government to hire an outside expert, completely unrelated to the company, to evaluate the environmental implications of performing the project, she added.
Such separation is crucial in this type of project, Keren Halperin-Museri, attorney for Adam Teva V'Din, stressed.
“The oil shale project is a clear example of the relationship between money and power, which endangers the environment and public health,” Halperin-Museri said. “The close cooperation, which arose through Knesset discussions, of the [Energy and Water] Ministry with project developers is suspicious and disturbing."
Two Knesset members, Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Dr. Rachel Adatto (Kadima) also showed up to the protest to express their opposition to the oil shale project.
“This project is borderline hallucinatory, its health and environmental impact is likely to be very harsh and irreversible,” Horowitz said. “Its economic efficiency is not proven anywhere in the world; therefore, it is necessary to remove this from the agenda."
Adatto agreed, adding, “I as a physician am against experiments that are not tested properly and that are likely to have awful consequences.”
In response to the protest, IEI emphasized that the targets of the upcoming pilot it aims to launch are technical viability, environmental effects and economic viability.
"We think that 99.9% of Israelis will support an examination of the viability of having Israeli oil at minimal environmental impact," said Relik Shafir, CEO of IEI.
IEI has been waiting for three-and-a-half years for a permit to begin its pilot program, and has found "a geological formation unique to Israel that ensures that there can be production of oil and gas from oil shale without environmental damage, as demonstrated in series of tests of the best scientists in the world," according to the company's official reaction to the Greenpeace event.
The results of these tests, conducted by renowned research institutions both in Israel and abroad, were submitted in a report to the Environmental Protection Ministry and showed that there would be no harm whatsoever to the aquifer below, the company explained. Should the project occur, it will span only 0.7 to 0.8 hectares (1.73 to 1.98 acres), of which the facilities will only be actively using 0.5 hectares (1.24 acres). The section containing heating and production drilling will be only 80 square meters, according to IEI.
"Abandoning this national treasure, while avoiding its analysis, will be regretted for generations," the company statement said.
At a conference held the day before at Netanya Academic College, Shafir had said that the plant will cause very few emissions, no harm to lands and absolutely no damage to the aquifer, which is located below an impermeable layer of chalk.
“There is not one hydrologist in Israel who thinks so,” he said.
IEI has the technology to protect the aquifer entirely, and will be able to be producing 50,000 barrels of oil per day for 25 years, helping ensure Israel’s energy security, according to Shafir.
“It’s not a vision, it’s not a bird on the tree,” he said. “We don’t have to look for it, we already found it.”
But the protesters could not disagree more with this vision, with Horowitz, who placed bunny ears on his head in support of their cause, saying that the project would be nothing less than “a national tragedy.”