Last year a small group of people accidentally discovered that Israel Energy Initiatives (IEI), backed by Rupert Murdoch, Dick Cheney and a powerful American oil conglomerate, intended to explore their land for oil shale – potentially a very destructive project. David de Rothschild (of Plastiki fame) responded to our plea to discourage Lord Jacob Rothschild from financing the project, and IEI won the black globe award for their less-than-environmentally friendly intentions.
Following is an interview with Rachel Jacobson, one of a handful of people who has invested countless exasperating hours to fight what many perceive as an underhanded effort to deceive the Israeli public into believing that oil shale is a national interest. Learn more about the ordinary citizens who have taken on “Big Oil” and where their efforts have led.
Rachel, had the Moshav been informed that IEI planned to do testing there?
As far as we know, IEI approached the Moshav governing committee and requested to rent a small portion of land, about one kilometer from our neighborhood, for a period of a few months. We cannot confirm what the committee was told regarding the company’s purpose for renting the land, and there is no evidence whatsoever that committee members were informed of the company’s long-term plans for the Adullam area. We know for certain that we area residents were not told about the project. Here in Aderet, some of us individually approached the drilling site and asked the workers about the site’s purpose. They gave us a variety of contradictory responses.
How soon after that was The Citizens Coalition to Save Adullam formed?
Within a couple of weeks of discovering the drilling site behind Aderet, we learned that a similar drilling site was established outside a residential community not far from us. We arranged a “parlor meeting” which was attended by residents of Aderet and another local community. After hearing a lecture on the subject of in-situ oil shale retort given by a local geology student, we conducted an open discussion and began the process of organizing ourselves into a citizens’ action committee. Within a month we already had formed Save Adullam. By now our group has grown from a handful of local residents, to a core group of twelve, plus hundreds of local and national volunteers and supporters.
Can you briefly describe the process that you had to go through to gain access to the license that the Ministry of Infrastructure granted to IEI to explore 60,000 acres of oil shale?
The license was “announced” to the public in the state registrar -a list of documents located in some government building no one ever thinks to visit. The license was not published in any newspaper or other public forum. The government has no legal obligation to announce an initiative such as this one, either to the regional governing body, or to the citizens potentially put at risk by the project. More crucially, the license did not specify any details or restrictions regarding drilling techniques, protective environmental or health measures, or any other aspect of the project.
As for actually acquiring a copy of the license, repeated queries from local residents went unanswered. Only after the Israel Union for Environmental Defense threatened to take legal action, did the Ministry of Infrastructure provide them with a copy. When the license itself was granted one and a half years prior, in July 2008, no one had any idea about it. Even the Ministry of the Environment told us, “We know about this, but we can’t talk about it.”
The efforts we were forced to make, just to obtain supposedly public information, gave us only a hint of what was to come in terms of bringing the project into the public eye.
What are some of Save Adullam’s greatest concerns?
It’s hard to narrow down our list of concerns, there are so many unknowns! Among our largest is that this technique has never been implemented on the industrial scale being proposed here. Israel is an extremely small country, with a very small margin of error. In the United States, a site like the one being proposed here would have to be located about 50 km from the nearest town, while here, the nearest residential area is barely two kilometers away.
Additional concerns for the immediate area include the potential risk of increased local air and ground (soil) pollution, increased noise and olfactory pollution, and the potential hazards.
As for the larger picture, we find it extremely concerning that a foreign-owned energy company, backed by the likes of Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch – neither of whom has demonstrated an environmental sensitivity in the past– can reach Israel and be given carte blanche to develop an industrial fuel center in the heart of the country, all without impartial and transparent scientific oversight, governmental due process, or citizen involvement.
Can you tell us more about the artists, business owners, and farmers who live in the Adullam District, and what they stand to lose if, after two years of testing, IEI is permitted to proceed with commercial oil shale extraction?
The local and national governments have made concerted efforts to support regional business development. In the past five years alone, the Regional Council has poured millions of shekels into supporting the tourist economy, including internationally recognized wineries, artisans, bed-and-breakfasts, and a well-developed network of hiking and bicycle trails throughout the entire region.
We don’t need to wait for completion of the testing phase to know that this proposed project puts local business owners and farmers at risk of losing the livelihoods they’ve worked so hard to build over the years. The concept of a risky and experiment petrochemical site is completely at odds with the natural and open essence of the region and its residents.
What is Save Adullam’s central message? Are the people of the Elah Valley completely opposed to testing, as well as widespread commercial exploration?
While there is no way to approach and survey each and every resident of the area, our experience over the past year and a half clearly shows that a vast majority of those residents who understand the issues in question, oppose both testing and commercial exploration. We are acutely aware that the main purpose of any “testing” phase is to pave the way for a much broader and impactful scenario. I believe most residents also understand that any such initiative would have significant, negative implications for area residents.
Our message is simple: We demand an open, transparent and public process regulated by multiple government bodies, nonpartisan scientists and other professionals. No more decisions made behind the closed doors of a single government office, whether under the guise of protecting trade secrets, or under the auspices of outdated legislation.
The Adullam area is a valuable national — and international — public resource that the State of Israel cannot afford to destroy. We demand total protection of the citizens of Israel, and total accountability of the government, and of the company. The citizens of Israel will not be guinea pigs, risking our land, our resources, and the health and well-being of our citizens, to the whim of foreign investors.
Many of you have jobs and families and yet you’ve been working around the clock. Can you tell us more about the Save Adullam group and the kind of work you have been doing together?
You mentioned jobs and families… In fact, all of us have families, most with several young children, and all of us are career-driven and community-oriented. A few of us are even pursuing additional academic degrees right now! I think where grass-roots activism is involved, you see the same story: The busiest people are always the ones to take on yet another project. Sometimes it’s really tempting just to drop the whole thing, and not have to tell our families — yet again — that we can’t be home to put the kids to bed because we have another campaign meeting, event or press conference.
Personally, I hope my kids will forgive me, because I’m really doing this for them, to protect their health and their national heritage. After all, the company has millions of foreign dollars backing its efforts, whose employees wake up every morning and get paid a full salary to push this project forward, while we are just a bunch of citizen volunteers. We don’t earn a cent. Yet we fill nearly every free moment fighting because we know that’s what it will take to win this battle.
image of Rachel courtesy of E. Cohen; all others via Save Adullam
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