MKs, officials spar over Golan Heights oil exploration plan

Lawmakers against drilling in Golan Heights while energy and water officials contend it won't cause environmental damage.

The Golan Heights 370 (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
The Golan Heights 370
(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
While Knesset members condemned Golan Heights oil exploration plans during a “quick discussion” on the subject, energy and water officials stressed that any such project would not harm the environment at this stage.
At the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Tuesday, MKs, government officials and industry stakeholders reviewed oil exploration plans, whose fate will be decided in the Northern District Committee for Planning and Building on Thursday. The plans involve a three-year exploratory drilling for conventional oil, through 10 wells on the Golan Heights, which would be carried out by the Afek Oil and Gas company.
Afek Oil is a subsidiary of New Jersey-based Genie Energy Ltd., which is the parent company of Israel Energy Initiatives, the firm that holds a license for an in-situ oil shale project in the Shfela basin in south-central Israel.
Following a favorable recommendation from the Petroleum Council in February 2013, Afek received its exploratory drilling license in April 2013. The license, according to the company, grants Afek exclusive rights to carry out oil and gas exploration activities for three years – with an option to extend to seven years – in a plot located south of Katzrin on the Golan.
If a discovery is proven, Afek is entitled to the longterm right of commercial production in the license area, the company said.
It filed its plans with the Northern District Committee for Planning and Building in November 2013, and now having completed the necessary objection period, the committee will decide whether or not to issue the company a permit on Thursday.
At the Knesset meeting on Tuesday, MKs Dov Henin (Hadash), Tamar Zanbderg (Meretz) and Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) criticized the exploration plans.
Expressing concern for the nearby Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Henin warned that one liter of oil could make a million liters of water undrinkable. He said that the exploration would involve nonconventional methods and would necessitate hydraulic fracking, due to the oil being trapped tightly – otherwise known as “tight oil.”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, however, Afek Oil CEO Geoffrey Rochwarger stressed that the oil could just as likely be conventional, not tight. Secondly, tight oil does not necessarily require fracking for extraction. Thirdly, fracking processes today are not the same as they were decades ago, he said.
Zandberg, meanwhile, criticized the licensing and potential permitting procedures for the exploration project as void of transparency and lacking knowledge about environmental sensitivity.
Lipman argued that Israel has the ability to produce 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2040, and may not need to conduct explorations for energy sources that harm the environment.
Rochwarger stressed that Afek Oil had, as required, conducted a comprehensive environmental impact assessment regarding the exploration plans, which had received the approval of both the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry.
At the committee meeting, Petroleum Commissioner Alexander Varshavsky stressed that all the drilling plans strictly followed guidelines for oil extraction on land.
Dr. Ilan Nissim, natural resources director at the Energy Ministry, said that the environmental impact assessment indicated that there would be no harm during the exploration, and proceeding to a full production stage requires an additional environmental impact survey. Nissim added that the exploration was not for oil shale, but rather for conventional oil.
Similar to Nissim, Gabi Weinberger of the Water Authority’s Hydrological Service, confirmed that she did not foresee any damage to the environment during the exploratory stage.
At the conclusion of the quick discussion, MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh Atid), who led the session, said that the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee would ask that the Northern District Committee for Planning and Building transfer its decision to the Knesset panel. She instructed the Energy Ministry to verify receipt of all drilling approvals as required by law, and stressed the importance of not using fracking technologies.