Green groups laud collapse of oil shale project, IEI’s plans uncertain

A day after blueprints for an oil shale pilot project crumbled in the hands of a district planning committee, environmentalists celebrated a sweeping victory, while developers expressed uncertainty about their future steps.

On Tuesday, after 10 hours of intense debate, the Jerusalem District Committee for Planning and Building voted to thwart the pilot drilling project of Israel Energy Initiatives – a company eager to prove the viability of about 40 billion barrels of oil found in the Shfela basin’s shale rock layer. IEI executives voiced hopes of bringing energy independence to Israel by means of secure and non-polluting technologies, but environmentalists slammed the plans as anything but safe.

Exploratory drilling site at Zoharim. (credit: SHARON UDASIN)

The Jerusalem District Committee, directed by Dalit Zilber, ultimately turned down the project, in a 13 to 1 vote, with two abstentions. Following Tuesday’s hearing, which was a direct continuation from an August 4 session, the committee members decided to reject the application for the pilot “after considering all aspects of the issue,” a statement from the Interior Ministry said.

Among the committee were a wide range of representatives from several ministries and authorities, according to the Interior Ministry. In addition to the district commissioner and district planner, members included representatives from the Environmental Protection Ministry, Defense Ministry, Housing and Construction Ministry, Health Ministry, Agriculture Ministry, Justice Ministry, Tourism Ministry, Israel Lands Authority, public environmental organizations, local authorities and the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry.

The Energy Ministry representative was the sole vote in favor of the plans, according to reports.

IEI had hoped to move on to the pilot phase of a project for which it had completed exploratory trials in 2011.

Advancing to the pilot had encountered delays due to both environmental opposition and regulatory changes.

Although the entire license zone may contain up to 40 billion barrels of oil, the pilot phase would have involved just one drilling site and production facility, through which IEI had planned to extract about 500 barrels of oil. Only if the pilot project was successful, and if the government had deemed the resource worth pursuing, could the company have continued to a demonstration phase, followed by a full commercial phase.

While IEI described its technology, which involves in-situ heating of the shale rock to produce lightweight oil on site, as environmentally friendly, green groups argued that such tools had never been operated on a commercial scale anywhere else in the world.

The Environmental Protection Ministry, led by its minister Amir Peretz, expressed heavy criticism for both the commercial scale and pilot version of the projects in recent months.

Stressing that the pilot itself presented pollution risks, Environment Ministry officials told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that “there is no way that if a pilot had succeeded, it would not continue to commercial production.”

The day before, Peretz had praised the committee’s decision as particularly important for the country’s children, who could now be certain that “the natural resources of Israel will be preserved and serve them in the future,” if necessary.

Asked whether the minister was thereby assenting to future oil shale development, ministry officials said that the resource should be saved for a crisis situation and used only in a case that the country truly needs it – if, for example, no natural gas was left in 50 years and the country had no cleaner alternatives.  Continue reading at…

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