Following our much publicized open letter to David de Rothschild, who is in the running to become National Geographic Adventurer of 2010, Green Prophet was interviewed on a radio station in Iowa about the oil shale exploration planned for Israel’s Elah Valley.
AOL news also covered the story, bringing attention to David de Rothschild’s concern for the potential environmental impact. The eco-explorer wrote to his second cousin, Lord Jacob Rothschild, a new investor in the conglomerate that intends to test its in-situ oil shale technology. That message was then forwarded to Israel Energy Initiatives.
In a four page response (see pdf at the end of this article), IEI assured Lord Jacob Rothschild that every effort has been made to ensure that this project will proceed without causing undue environmental destruction.
The company’s CEO, Relik Shafir also claimed that IEI has proceeded with total transparency and that all relevant documents are easily accessible.
“Furthermore, in connection with our planned Pilot Test, the company commissioned an environmental impact assessment,” Mr. Shafir wrote.
The EIS referred to was commissioned by the company, according to Rachel Jacobson, the spokesperson for the Citizens Coalition to Save Adullam. In most transparent societies, it is necessary to produce an independent environmental impact assessment report. This alleviates any possibility of fudging data to suit the company’s commercial purposes.
Mr. Shafir also claimed that the EIS was submitted to every pertinent regulatory authority and that it is in the public domain.
But the process has not been nearly so accessible or transparent as Mr. Shafir would like Lord Rothschild to believe. Instead, Save Adullam’s legal counsel was only able to obtain a copy of the Ministry of Infrastructure’s license to explore two and a half years after it was issued, and even then they acquired it through unofficial means.
The company’s CEO addressed a host of environmental concerns, claiming that it will neither require excess energy nor water to produce shale oil, and that the local aquifer (at risk of contamination) is several hundred meters below the targeted oil shale.
Until Green Prophet has access to the scientific data that gives IEI such confidence, we can’t fairly comment. We can draw attention to a Forbes report, in which America’s Government Accountability Office draws attention to both water scarcity and water quality as risks associated with oil shale exploration.
“Oil shale development could have “significant” impacts on water quality and availability, but the exact effects are unclear, partly because what’s known about current water conditions is limited and processes for extracting oil are still being researched, the GAO said.”
IEI claims it will be a net producer of water, but whether that is possible is in question. Jeremy Boak, the Director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research said this of water and oil shale:
One major use of water for in situ production would be for steam condensation in a power plant. Because IE will not heat downhole with electricity, this use may be excluded. A second use is for reclamation of the underground, to “steam clean” the rock of any organic contaminants not recovered during production, to protect groundwater.
This is particularly worrying in a country that has precious little water resources, where vegetable prices have doubled and trebled because of water scarcity, and where energy-intensive desalination facilities make up for lack of fresh water.
The CEO also wrote that the quality of Israel’s oil shale is “a world-class resource that is rich, thick, and homogenous.”
Jeremy Boak says it is of “medium grade,” and America’s National Oil Shale Association omits Israel from its list of the world’s top oil shale resources, shedding some doubt on IEI’s hyperbole.
The letter did not address the court petition submitted by the Union for Environmental Defense, or the potential impact the project (not merely the pilot project, but future exploration) would have on the people in the Elah Valley.
Two additional, potential negative impacts noted by Jeremy Boak:
c) Socioeconomic impact. Federal governments collect large royalties on hydrocarbon production. The local impacts occur immediately, but the filtering down of the Federal dollars to states and localities is substantially delayed, and portions are diverted to other needs. On the other hand, at least in western Colorado, rapid development and population not related to hydrocarbon production is not generating royalty revenue, but is having impacts. So a systematic view is important to resolve a broader impact.
d) Surface disturbance. An in situ production block will be largely cleared of vegetation during the life of the production, although well-recognized reclamation approaches can readily restore the land once production and any in situ reclamation is complete. The surface disturbance question comes down to how much surface needs to be disturbed at any one time. For Colorado, this can be relatively moderate due to the richness of the oil shale.
In Israel, the pilot project will occur within one mile of the nearest town, according to Mrs. Jacobson, who adds that this would be “unthinkable in America.” Therefore, the slightest surface disturbance will have a direct impact on the ecological integrity of an area being considered as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Shedding even further doubt on its safety, in November Haaretz reported that oil shale caught fire at Israel’s Rotem Amfert plant, which caused headaches and other discomforts in Dimona.
Critics worry that IEI and their wealthy benefactors, including Dick Cheney – whose environmental record is notoriously sullied – are using the Elah Valley as a guinea site for technology that must undergo rigorous testing in the United States before it can be exploited on a widespread commercial level.
Proponents claim that testing should be permitted, but only if appropriate environmental processes are followed.
Please see IEI’s response below:
More on oil shale in the Elah Valley: