Limited Exploratory Oil Drilling on Golan Heights Can Resume, Court Rules

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An oil drilling platform, illustration. Credit: Bloomberg

Experimental drilling for oil on the Golan Heights can resume, the High Court of Justice ruled on Monday. But the court stressed that such drills may produce a few barrels of oil only, and any transition to commercial-scale drilling will require a detailed plan approved by the authorized planning agencies.

In late September, responding to a petition seeking to bar the drilling, the court issued a temporary injunction halting it until a final decision on the petition was issued. Yesterday, the court rejected the petition, meaning the injunction has now been lifted.

The petition was filed by the environmental organization Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva v’Din) and the Kanatir farm. They argued that the drills should be halted because the oil would probably have to be extracted by fracking, which involves shooting chemicals and water at high pressure into the rock strata. These chemicals could pollute both the groundwater and the streams that feed Lake Kinneret, Israel’s main source of fresh water, they said.

Moreover, fracking might cause earthquakes, especially since the Golan is a seismically sensitive area, the petition claimed. Afek, the company that holds the oil exploration license, has not ruled out the possibility of using fracking.

Afek welcomed the ruling. But surprisingly, so did attorney Amit Bracha of IUED, who said the ruling would effectively force the company to get a new license from the regional planning committee every time it wants to produce another few barrels of oil, and thereby strictly limited its operations. Moreover, Bracha said, this will set a precedent for other companies that want to conduct exploratory drills in other parts of Israel.

Afek said preparations for the drills would begin in the coming days. The company plans to conduct up to 10 drills at depths of 1,200 to 2,200 meters. Each drill will take three to four months, and only one will be carried out at a time.

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