Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Can Israeli Oil Shale Outsize Saudi Arabia?

Maurice Picow
Can Israeli Oil Shale Outsize Saudi Arabia?
Maurice Picow | July 7th, 2011

Does Israel want its Negev and Galilee regions torn up for “black gold”?

Until recently, Israel has been an energy poor country, with nearly all its energy needs having to be supplied by importing both petroleum – bought mainly on the international Spot Market – and coal. Previous attempts to find oil in Israel have only been marginally successful, with small amounts discovered outside the city of Ashdod, and on the shores of the Dead Sea. But following the discovery of large amounts of natural gas in offshore Mediterranean fields, such as the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields off the coast of Haifa, Israel has begun to become a potential world player in energy production, with ideas to export natural gas to Europe in an undersea pipeline, despite security and environmental implications. But these finds could be nothing, compared to vast amounts of oil shale waiting to be processed.

All of this, including the natural gas finds, are small in comparison to estimates of as much as a half trillion barrels of oil in the form of oil shale, that has been estimated to be lying under parts of Israel’s Negev and Galilee regions; and just waiting for the proper technology to extract it.

Extracting liquid petroleum from rock-hard oil shale (which looks and feels like solid rock) is not an easy task, however.

The process involved is very expensive as well as not very environmentally friendly. This has been already found out in locations like Alberta Canada, where Israeli geothermal energy company Ormat Industries teamed up with Canadian company Opti Canada Inc. to extract oil from shale-like tar sands by using high pressure steam.

But despite the drawbacks, there are now research teams working on ways to be able to extract oil from these large Israel oil shale reserves as reported recently on Canada’s Sun News Service, environmentalist Lawrence Solomon told Sun’s reporter that Israel’s oil shale reserves “may be as much or more than all of those in Saudi Arabia”.

Some “big gun” energy investment players appear interested in the Israel oil shale venture, including media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former US Vice President Dick Cheny, and business planning strategist Barry Rothschild.

Solomon believes that oil can be produced from Israeli oil shale for a price of between US $35 and 40 per barrel. The idea, according to the SUN News video clip, is to break OPEC’s control of the world energy market, particularly the portion in the hands of Arab countries.

If this is true, and if Israeli geologists and energy production experts are successful in extracting this energy, OPEC’s global influence may be severely damaged, if not broken entirely.

Hearing this kind of prediction from a person like Solomon is a bit strange, however. His Energy Probe NGO has spoken out against causes of global warming (of which over use of fossil fuels has been blamed), extraction of oil from the Alberta Tar Sands, and use of nuclear energy.

For a small country like Israel, with limited geographical space compared to Canada, intense production of oil from oil shale could be very environmentally damaging. This has already been seen on a lesser extent by a pilot oil shale production project Mishor Rotem that is being shut down due to environmental concerns.

If oil shale production by Israel may be eventually profitable, and even turn Israel into a major energy exporter, what environment price will have to be paid in order to become a world energy player? Tearing up large portions of the Negev and the Galilee to extract this energy does not sound very environmentally plausible. And despite all this “black gold” , the Israeli public will not benefit as the government seems bent of adhering to the “Norwegian Plan” of levying high energy taxes despite the availability of oil.


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