Israel Nature and Parks Authority Calls for Halt to Shale Oil Drilling Project

Target area is a sensitive region, and results would be inconclusive, argue environmental groups.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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IEI's experimental drill for shale oil near Beit Guvrin.
IEI's experimental drill for shale oil near Beit Guvrin.Credit: Moti Milrod
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has called for halting the approval process for oil shale drilling in the Judean Plain, ahead of a crucial discussion on a proposed pilot production facility.

The authority claimed in an opinion recently sent to the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee that there is insufficient information regarding the environmental impact of producing oil from oil shale. The authority also warned there is a danger it will cause serious damage to the landscape in a region of vital importance for nature preservation as well as historical and cultural sites.

Next week the committee is scheduled to discuss a plan by Israel Energy Initiatives to build a pilot facility in the southern Judean Plain to test the profitability and feasibility of shale oil production. Israel Energy claims the area’s oil reserves could potentially make Israel energy independent. The production method it is proposing is based on heating up the ground to the point when the oil shale can be streamed from inside the rocks and afterwards distilled into oil. The company previously proposed carrying out the pilot in the Ella Valley, but later it examined more southerly sites.

According to the governmental Nature and Parks Authority, the production method planned for a commercial stage has never been tried successfully. The pilot will not be sufficient for evaluating the environmental impact, requiring a series of additional tests before the development of any large-scale oil-producing project in the region.

“In the wake of the pilot, if it is successful, even before beginning full production, many drilling sites, sewage purification plants, water reservoirs, energy production installations and transportation and traffic systems will be built,” according to the written opinion. The authority argued that building such facilities is problematic in a region it deems to be of worldwide importance.

The region constitutes a sequential ecological corridor and a distribution boundary for many species of flora and fauna, according to the authority. It contains heritage sites from all the historical periods, including an area recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.

“The production method should first be tested in another place, where the effect on people, the environment, the landscape and nature can be less destructive,” stated the opinion. “There is also room to assume that energy-producing technologies will continue to improve, and when there is a need for the oil shale resource, it will remain in the ground for the decision and welfare of future generations. In the opinion of the Nature and Parks Authority, the continued promotion of the plan should be stopped.”

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel also published a position paper in which it opposed the continued approval of activities for producing oil from oil shale, due to the environmental consequences for the Judean Plain region. The organization claims that use of the technology in question should not be promoted until Israel has a national policy for developing energy sources.

IEI said in response: “The opinion of the Nature and Parks Authority has been expressed already via the authority’s scientific committee, which approved a scientific test but rejected its location in the Ella Valley. The firm suggested alternatives for the pilot’s location to the committee, including one that meets most of the sensitive points raised by the Nature and Parks Authority. The oil shale resource is likely to be a blessing for Israel at a very small environmental cost. In order to test that, there is a need for a pilot that will provide a future outlook sufficient for making decisions regarding possible commercial production.”

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