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Israel will soon face a shortage of independent geologists to assess the environmental impact of drilling for oil and for the newly discovered off-shore reserves of natural gas, according to senior scientists.

In an article in the annual publication of the Israel Academy of Sciences, which comes out today, the authors propose funds be earmarked for geological studies from the royalties the franchisees pay to the government.

The publication is distributed to Israel's senior academicians, government and economic leaders.

The academy submitted the article to the Sheshinsky Committee, which is studying the issues of royalties and taxes on future energy revenues. In the coming days, academy president Prof. Ruth Arnon says they will decide what further steps to take.

The article's authors, Prof. Ronnie Kosloff of the Hebrew University's Institute of Chemistry and Prof. Alan Matthews of the Earth Sciences Institute ask "whether the scientific community in Israel has the tools and the knowledge to deal with unprecedented economic development and whether the knowledge and the researchers in geology, geophysics, marine sciences, ecology and environmental sciences can provide impartial answers to the challenges to this development."

The authors also note that a good deal of the geological information is confidential and held by commercial bodies.

According to Matthews, "there were a few dozen researchers in fields related to drilling and oil exploration in the 60s and 70s, and now there are less than five or six experts."

In a recent letter to Arnon, Tel Aviv University geologist Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham, an Israel Prize laureate in earth sciences, also addressed this issue, noting that the government, which is responsible for creating standards in environmental development, "is to a great extent inexperienced in the face of the challenges, particularly because it lacks the basic scientific understanding of the processes at work."

Ben-Avraham also wrote that while only the scientific establishment can provide this understanding, "current budget models do not make it possible to fund the high costs of building the infrastructure for proper research programs."

Kosloff and Matthews also note in their article that the deep-water oil and gas exploration technology used in Israel is the same used by the oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico this year.

According to Kosloff, energy and real estate baron Yitzhak Tshuva and his partners are hoping to find oil reserves, which are easier to market internationally than gas, but could create new risks. "There is oil and they will almost certainly find it. The problem is that the oil emerges under very high pressure and if the concrete is even slightly shoddy, a huge amount of oil can spill out. It can cover all the beaches. The BP well was 1,500 kilometers from the Florida beaches. In the Mediterranean we are talking about 100 kilometers. Somebody has got to understand this, but there is currently no independent individual dealing with the matter."