While the riots in Egypt escalate, potentially compromising Israel’s natural gas supply and casting significant doubt on the region’s energy future, a quieter battle continues to take place in Israel. On January 31, 2011 the Science & Technology Commission held a public hearing to discuss Israel Energy Initiative’s (IEI) proposed oil shale plan in the Judean foothills. Earlier we published IEI’s response to David de Rothschild’s concerns and an interview with oil shale expert Jeremy Boak. The hearing revealed a serious discord between various ministries, and both Knesset members and the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Infrastructure voiced their concerns.
One of the main issues is whether it makes sense to conduct oil shale exploration in a region that is so environmentally, historically, and socially sensitive. Also in question is whether IEI has done enough to prove that in-situ oil shale exploration will not harm the region’s groundwater or soil.
Under the draconian National Fuel Law, the Ministry of Infrastructure granted IEI (and a heavyweight oil consortium that has financial backing from Lord Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch) carte blanche.
Under this law, the local community were not consulted, nor was an independent environmental impact assessment required. The Citizens Coalition to Save Adullam, composed of scientists, lawyers, businesspeople and educators, who stand to lose the most if the pilot project goes awry, have questioned the validity of this law half a century later.
Until now, there has been significant political pressure to support the project, on the grounds that it could free Israel from the shackles of Arab oil. Even at the local level.
Head of the Judean Regional Council, Mr. Moshe Dadon provided perhaps the most scathing revelation:
“I’m getting a lot of political pressure from the government offices to endorse this project, prior to any real assessment of its repercussions on the environment, the local tourist economy, and the public health. We would rather reject the company’s financial offers and protect the area’s open space and tourist welcoming character.”
Addressing opposition, IEI’s CEO Mr. Ralik Shafir said:
“The company will live up to all the conditions stipulated and will submit a clearly outlined business plan. The entire process is now in the pilot stage and we want to prove that there will be no damage. In the event that during the trial [phase] there will be damage, to the environment or to quality of life, there won’t be any project.”
Mr. Shafir has been notoriously vague. Responding to an earlier Green Prophet post, Mr. Shafir claimed that the relevant geological and hydrological reports were available on his website. Because those reports are in Hebrew, this author contacted Mr. Shafir directly for more information. He never responded.
Dr. Yeshayahu Bar-Or, Assistant Director General of Natural Resources with the Ministry of
Environmental Protection has also found IEI to be insufficiently forthcoming:
“The Ministry has asked a great deal of questions regarding the environmental aspects, but in spite of our repeated and revised inquiries we have received only incomplete answers. We have to examine alternatives for the location of the pilot phase, so that it will not harm environmentally sensitive areas. In the absence of test results we cannot reach any uniform conclusions.”
In a stunning display of split-mindedness, Dr. Avraham Arbiv, Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Infrastructure that issued IEI’s exploration license, voiced concerns about former rejections of the in-situ technology that could cause air and water pollution, and even damage Adullam’s aquifers.
He also said that “It’s possible a mistake was made in granting the company a drilling
license under the National Fuel Law.”
But then Dr. Arbiv backtracked:
“Between 1982 and 2000 there was a project to test fuel production from oil shale, but it was halted. We are sitting on a very large resource. I agree that we can produce fuel with minimal damage to the environment.”
While the public hearing will not have any legal outcomes, it is clear that government and public concerns have not been fully addressed.
According to Reserve Chairman of the Science and Technology Commission, MK Eitan
“No exploratory or commercial oil shale production can be pursued in the Judean
Foothills. There are too many concerns and unanswered questions. The lack of consensus
among the government offices has led to a situation in which the company is promoting fuel
production in an especially sensitive area, without proper oversight.”
Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that the Israel Antiquities Authority has committed over NIS 500,000 to excavate a church in Adullam Park. The tunnel beneath it contains coins, stone tools, lamps and clay vessels from the first and second century CE, providing even further testament to the region’s importance to Israel’s identity.
More on oil shale in Israel:
IEI Responds to David de Rothschild’s Oil Shale Concerns
NGO Takes IEI/Genie Oil Shale Plan To Israel’s High Court
Interview With American Oil Shale Expert Jeremy Boak
David de Rothschild Responds To Green Prophet’s Oil-Shale Plea
Gore Says Oil Shale is “Utter Insanity” (VIDEO)
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