A group of research students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are at the forefront of oil and gas exploration in Israel, providing scientific analysis and support as part of the initial drilling program in the Golan Heights.BGU students are working alongside faculty member Prof. Harold Vinegar, chief scientist of Afek Oil and Gas, a publicly traded subsidiary of Genie Energy, Ltd., headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. Vinegar, now on the faculty of BGU’s department of geological and environmental sciences, was chief scientist of physics at Royal Dutch Shell, spending 32 years at Shell’s Bellaire Technology Center in Texas working on novel hydrocarbon exploration and production technologies.“While you are drilling, it is nearly impossible to understand what you are seeing,” explains Vinegar. “We need the analysis of the materials. The BGU team is providing scientific research support that has reduced the information turnover time significantly and allows the exploratory work to be far more focused.”“In today’s world, we are able to use knowledge to reduce our footprint in nature and to ensure that we work in the greenest way possible.”This fall, BGU will be offering a program in petroleum geosciences, with an emphasis on conventional and unconventional resources, headed by Vinegar and Prof. Shimon Feinstein. Courses will range from the geochemistry of source rocks and fossil fuels to geophysical methods, petrophysics and rock mechanics, reservoir engineering for geologists, and the environmental implications of petroleum.Afek has a license to explore for conventional oil over the next three years and preliminary findings have indicated the presence of hydrocarbons. Members of the BGU research team recently visited the NESS 3 drilling site in the Golan Heights at the groundbreaking or “spudding” of the well in the southern Golan Heights.“We used information gleaned from a 1980s drilling site that was looking for water to decide where to drill,” explained Afek Chief Geologist Dr. Yuval Bartov at the site. He outlined the geological evidence that suggests that the ancient volcanic activity of the region may have generated the heat for the production of oil in the late Cretaceous organic- rich period. “BGU is also exploring possibilities to establish a Center for Petroleum Sciences and the Environment in the near future, based on the existing academic strengths in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences,” says Prof. Jiwchar Ganor, a geologist in the department and dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences.