Unit of U.S. Firm Cleared to Drill for Oil for Two More Years in Golan Heights

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One of Afek’s Golan Heights drilling sites.Credit: Courtesy

A subsidiary of U.S.-based Genie Energy has won preliminary approval for two more years of exploratory oil drilling in the Golan Heights, despite the protests of green groups.

The move by a district planning committee sets the stage for a 60-day period during which members of the public can submit objections. For the time being, Genie subsidiary Afek said its drilling operations would continue.

But the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said it was putting together objections, vowing that no oil industry would be developed in the Golan.

Raz Ungar of environmental group Green Course said the decision showed that Israel was choosing to “surrender to polluting industry and the tycoons” instead of taking Israelis’ health and the economic future of Golan residents into account. He recommended that Israel opt for renewable energy instead.

Newark, New Jersey-based Genie Energy was founded by American Jewish businessman Howard Jonas, who also has political contacts in Israel.

His political involvement includes a contribution of 38,664 shekels ($9,970) to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign in the Likud party primary. The chairman of the company’s Israeli affiliate is a former Knesset member,  Brig. Gen. (res.) Effie Eitam.

Last year Afek won approval to conduct a year of test drilling at 10 sites. The company has completed work at two of the sites and is in the middle of drilling at a third.

Several weeks ago the company told the district planning committee that there had been a misunderstanding regarding the drilling time line and that it needed at least a year for every test drill. The committee was informed that Afek needed two more years all told, the company said.

On Monday, the Society for the Protection of Nature submitted a counterproposal to the committee, urging that permission to drill not be extended due to concerns over environmental damage to Lake Kinneret and the Golan.

The proposal was rejected by a vote of nine to one with four abstentions. The only vote in favor of the SPNI proposal was the organization’s own person on the panel. Among abstainers was a representative of the Environmental Protection Ministry, which in the past had reportedly opposed the drilling.

During the meeting of the district planning committee, demonstrators from Golan Heights communities protested outside against the drilling. Protester Michael Elyakim said opponents were surprised that Afek had received preliminary approval for two more years.

Afek welcomed the committee’s decision, saying that continued test drilling was “essential to understanding the scope of the oil reserve that we believe exists in the southern Golan.” The company promised to cooperate with “full transparency” with the authorities.