Jerusalem Planning Committee Nixes Oil Fracking Program

Environmental concerns cited as plan to build pilot plant near Beit Guvrin is shelved

Moti Milrod

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee on Tuesday rejected a plan to erect a pilot facility to produce oil from shale in the Judean lowlands.

The rejection was not explained, but it was a near-unanimous decision, with only the representative of the Energy and Water Resources Ministry voting in favor.

The proposed Israel Energy Initiatives production site is located west of the Tarkumiya checkpoint, within the Green Line near Beit Guvrin. The plan was to try to produce oil by heating to 350 degrees Centigrade the layer of rock containing the shale, 200 to 300 meters underground, to accelerate the removal of oil from the rock layers. The aim was to gauge the feasibility of such a project; if it had succeeded, after the construction of another successful pilot facility the company planned to produce shale oil on a commercial scale.

Tuesday’s debate dealt with the location being proposed by Israel Energy Initiatives and the question of whether the facility posed environmental risks. The position of the Environmental Protection Ministry and other environmental groups was that the project is liable to cause damage, including groundwater contamination.

Although the reasons for objecting were not specified, it seems that most committee members were persuaded not to approve the plan because the technology being used has yet to be applied commercially elsewhere in the world. Most believed there were too many unknowns about the environmental impact of the project, even as a relatively small pilot project.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz praised the panel’s decision. “This is an important day for the environment and for Israelis, who have won back one of the most beautiful and heavily toured areas of Israel,” he said. “This is also an important day for our children, who can be sure that Israel’s natural resources are being preserved and will be available for use in the future if needed. We cannot perform experiments that are liable to endanger the health, environment and energy security of future generations.”

Greenpeace, which had opposed the oil shale program, said, “The oil shale experiment contravenes Israeli government decisions to encourage energy efficiency and expand the use of renewable energy, as well as contrary to Israel’s international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are proud of the committee's decision.”

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which had also opposed the project, said, “During the debate today it became clear that many questions remained unanswered about the impact of oil shale production and that the damage was liable to exceed the benefit.”

Israel Energy Initiatives said that it was studying the committee's decision before deciding how to proceed.