Oil Prospecting on Golan Temporarily Halted Over Pollution Fears

Residents are concerned that use of fracking in the area could lead to the wide-scale pollution of ground water.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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An oil fracking site in the U.S.
An oil fracking site in the U.S.Credit: Bloomberg
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order, preventing work on an experimental oil drilling site on the Golan Heights.

The order came in response to a petition by local residents and the Golan Water company, who want the work stopped until a petition to permanently block oil drilling in the area can be heard. The order did not specify a date for renewal of operations.

Afek Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of North American firm Genie Energy, was given permission to proceed with the drilling by the Northern District building and planning committee a few months ago. Afek has also initiated a project for producing shale oil in the Judean plain.

Golan residents appealed the decision through environmental NGO Adam Teva v’Din, asserting that the committee did not have full information about the environmental impact of prospecting for oil on the Golan when it gave the go-ahead. In parallel, the Golan’s water concern, Golan Water, also submitted objections to the plan because of its potential effect on local water resources.

One of the concerns of the petitioners is the use of fracking technology to produce the oil. Afek has not ruled out the fracking option. Residents and environmental groups maintain that fracking, which includes injecting huge amounts of water and chemicals underground, could lead to pollution of the water aquifers, which are the source of drinking water for the area.

Amit Bracha, executive director of Adam Teva v’Din, welcomed the decision, saying that it would “ensure an intensive debate on the question whether a project with such destructive environmental and health risks should be approved.”

The hydrological service of the Water Authority is due to convene a meeting of experts on Wednesday to discuss the repercussions of oil drilling on water resources in the Golan. Among the scheduled participants is Dr. Avner Vengosh of Duke University, who is considered one of the leading U.S. experts on the impact of fracking.

Vengosh told Haaretz this week that commercial production of oil in the area is likely to require fracking to speed up the process of getting it out of the ground. That could create risks of water pollution from chemicals and the release of polluted water onto the ground. “That doesn’t mean it is impossible to do fracking but you have to guarantee in advance proper treatment and surveillance of any pollution,” stressed Vengosh.

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