Israel Wisely Says No to Shale Oil

The Judean lowlands contain vital nature sites that form a contiguous open space - a rarity in a densely built-up country like Israel.

Moti Milrod

Earlier this week, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee rejected a plan for a pilot facility producing shale oil in the Judean lowlands. This is a big achievement for the authorities fighting to protect the country’s natural resources — and for Israelis themselves, who are entitled to enjoy these resources.

The oil was supposed to be produced using underground heating technology that has not been applied commercially anywhere else in the world. The Judean lowlands contain vital nature sites that form a contiguous open space – a rarity in a densely built-up country like Israel. A key groundwater reservoir is also located in the region.

The planning and building committee did well to balance the need to develop energy sources with the need to preserve nature and the groundwater reservoir, which could have been endangered. The committee’s decision has an ethical dimension, based on its appreciation of nature and scenery, even at the expense of a resource that could yield businesspeople and the state a tidy sum.

The committee’s decision must also be examined in the context of Israel’s energy needs and goals. The country has made some important decisions in recent years to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and develop oil substitutes. It aims to reduce its dependency on this polluting energy source.

Israel is also considerably expanding its use of renewable energy. Clearly, developing an oil industry in the center of the country would have contravened this policy.

Meanwhile, Israel uses the natural-gas fields it has found in the sea, which will account for a significant part of its energy needs. As some opponents of the oil-production plan in the Judean lowlands noted, the shale isn’t going anywhere. If there is a need to use them, this can be done prudently — and after experience has been gained around the world.

Instead, Israel must craft a master plan for the energy market that takes environmental considerations into account. It must enable long-term planning for the various resources.

The planning and building committee’s rejection of the pilot plant was not explained, but it was a near-unanimous decision; only the representative of the Energy and Water Resources Ministry voted in favor. The proposed production site is west of the Tarkumiya checkpoint but inside Israel proper near Beit Guvrin. The plan was to try to produce oil by heating the rock containing the shale to 350 degrees Celsius, 200 to 300 meters below ground.

The aim was to gauge the feasibility of such a project. If it and a second pilot plant had succeeded, the company planned to produce shale oil on a commercial scale.