Israeli Government Suspends Work at Golan Oil Drilling Site

The Golan drillings have been controversial both because they are taking place on land still claimed by Syria and because of environmental opposition.

The Golan Heights.
David Bachar

Testing at exploratory oil wells on the Golan Heights was suspended by an unexpected order of the Energy Ministry on Tuesday on the grounds that the company exploring hadn’t received proper approvals to continue.

The ministry said all work at the Ness 2 site, one of five drillings Afek Oil & Gas has completed at a site on the southern Golan Heights, should end “as soon as possible,” a move the company said took it by compete surprise.

“The company has acted in accordance with the terms of its approvals and is right now at the peak of its activities in the field inside the period it was awarded under the law,” said Afek, a subsidiary of the U.S. company Genie Energy. "Given the situation, we were taken by complete surprise by the request of the follow-up committee, which three weeks ago approved extending our testing, to bring them to an end as soon as possible.”

The Golan drillings have been controversial both because they are taking place on land still claimed by Syria and because of environmental opposition. Last October, Yuval Bartov, Afek’s chief geologist, said the company has identified an oil stratum 350 meters thick, which would suggest large amounts of oil.

Shares of New Jersey-based Genie Energy, which was founded by American Jewish businessman Howard Jonas, were up 0.8% at $7.96 in early afternoon local time in New York. Genie had issued no announcement about the suspension.

Despite the controversy, the ministry’s order suspending operations appears to be only procedural. Six weeks ago, Afek received an extension on its license from a inter-ministerial follow-up committee, but the Energy Ministry said on Tuesday the government’s Oil Committee was the only body authorized to grant the approval. Sources said it was likely to grant the approval since the committee had awarded the license and extensions in the past.