Parks Authority okays drilling for oil in Judean reserve

Israeli companies think reserve could produce up to 6.5 million barrels; Envrionmental group "distressed" over decision.

oil pipes 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
oil pipes 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The search for oil in Israel got a big push forward on Tuesday night after The Nature and Parks Authority general assembly approved plans for the drilling of an exploratory hole to search for oil in the Judean nature reserve. Two Israeli companies, Ginko Oil Exploration and Delek Energy Systems, believe there could be as much as 6.5 million barrels below the reserve. The assembly approved Zuk Tamrur 4 on the condition that the Authority comes up with strict guidelines to reduce the environmental damage as much as possible. The assembly also demanded that the companies rehabilitate the area afterwards. In addition, if oil were to be found, the assembly ruled, the pumps to remove it would have to be placed outside the reserve. Until now, the Authority's administration had rejected all attempts at drilling, but they were overruled Tuesday by the general assembly, which comprises representatives of environmental organizations and the government. Avraham Poraz, former internal affairs minister and now consultant to the oil companies, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday night how he explained the issue to the assembly a month ago in the run-up to the decision. "I put it to them very simply. One third of Israel is nature reserves. It cannot be that we can't search for oil in one third of the country. "Moreover, I told them that according to our ecological estimations, the damage would be minimal because we are talking about 1.25 acres without fences, or dogs or anything like that," he told the Post. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) decried the decision. "We are distressed that the assembly gave in to the pressures of the initiators, did not heed its own science committee's recommendation against the plan and so will cause unnecessary damage to the reserve," the organization said in a statement. The Authority had suggested drilling a hole diagonally from outside the reserve to search for oil, but a geological consultant said that would create too many problems, an Authority spokesman said. Ginko director Rami Karmin told the Post earlier this week that Zuk Tamrur 4 represented Israel's best bet to find oil. He said they only needed 1.25 acres for two months to drill a hole 2,000 meters deep and see if they struck oil. 6.5 million barrels would be worth about $800 million, he added. The area where the companies want to sink their hole represents a bridge for animal populations between the Judean and Negev reserves, the Authority's science committee had written, and putting in a hole would block that narrow passageway. It had also said that any sort of drilling was bound to cause severe environmental damage and therefore recommended rejecting the request.