Hard Look / Oil, Oil Everywhere, Evidently

Some countries would look beneath every rock for signs of oil. Given the prices today, that seems to make sense. But some countries are evidently so rich in oil - it must flow in their very streets - that they foil every attempt to find more. Israel is evidently one of them.

How do we know? Ten years ago, Avner Oil Exploration started looking for oil by the Dead Sea, at a place called Tamrur Cliff. Oil exploration requires several permits: from the National Infrastructure Ministry, the District Planning & Building Committee, the Israel Lands Administration, the Defense Ministry and the Aviation Authority, too. And because Tamrur Cliff is in a nature reserve, Avner needed the blessing of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, too.

It got the permits 10 years ago, too, but didn't use them because oil was so cheap. Now that the price is sky-high, Avner wants its permits reissued. All the government authorities acquiesced, except for the Nature and Parks Authority. It claims the exploration would devastate the environment, cause pollution, noise and illumination that would be bad for flora and fauna alike. It even says the oil in question is such a small amount that it wouldn't pay off, anyway.

The fact that Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra supports Avner did not move the INPA. The fact that Ori Or, the chairman of the INPA plenum, supports Avner, moved the INPA management not at all.

A geologist commissioned by Avner estimates the area has 6.5 barrels of oil worth $850 million, a nice sum that pretties up any balance sheet. But even though the area in question is a tiny fraction of the Judean desert, a few hundred dunams, the INPA objects.

The drill site would be one kilometer from the border of the nature reserve. If oil is found, Avner has promised to dismantle the drilling equipment at the end of the works and lay a pipeline that takes the black goo from the well to tankers outside the reserve. What would remain at the site is a pump occupying an area of a half-dunam to one dunam. Once the oil is gone, the pump would be dismantled too, and the desert would reign again.

True, oil companies can't just drill into the planet wherever they please. We wouldn't want them drilling into Masada or Mount Herzl. But if they can't drill in the desert, where can they? Well, as we said, we must be rich enough in oil to afford to ban this one.