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‘Billions of Barrels of Israeli Oil’ Tapped in the Golan Heights

Afek Oil and Gas dug until it found a wellspring of commercially viable oil. Its CEO says its the first discovery of its kind since Israel was established.

Jonathan Zalman
October 07, 2015
Jacj Guez/AFP/Getty Images
An employee works at an onshore rig in Maanit, about 50 kms north of Tel Aviv, July 29, 2009. Jacj Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Jacj Guez/AFP/Getty Images
An employee works at an onshore rig in Maanit, about 50 kms north of Tel Aviv, July 29, 2009. Jacj Guez/AFP/Getty Images

The Afek Oil and Gas company, a subsidiary of Newark, New Jersey-based Genie Energy, announced on Tuesday it had discovered a wellspring of oil in the Golan Heights. This information was first reported by Israel’s Channel 2, which interviewed Yuval Bartok, Afek’s chief geologist. “We are talking about significant quantities…a layer 350 meters thick,” he said. Further reporting from The Times of Israel points out that the sheer albeit still unknown size of the take is massive, or “ten times larger than the average oil find worldwide.”

Afek, whose webpage invites visitors to “Come look for oil in Israel with us!”, began exploring in December 2014. In September, Melanie Lidman of The Times of Israel reported:

On September 11, the Northern Regional Planning and Building Committee approved a project for exploratory drilling in the Golan Heights. The area approved is 396 square kilometers, starting in Katzrin and extending southward. Not all of that land — 33% of the 1,200 sq km that make up the Golan Heights — will be used exclusively for oil drilling, as each well has an average footprint of seven dunam (1.7 acres). The area for exploration just delineates areas where Afek has permission to drill.
The exploration program allows Afek to drill 10 wells in order to search for oil, which its experts believe exists in a conventional liquid form and not the oil shale compound found in the Shfela. However, they won’t know until they drill. The company is not yet sure what exactly it will find, or even if it will find oil at all.

“We have a real risk. It could be that we drill our well and it’s dry and there’s no recoverable resource,” acknowledged Geoffrey Rochwarger, the CEO of Genie Israel, the parent company of Afek.

The risk, it appears—it cost $30 million to simply have the oil exploration approved—has paid off, big-time. It’s significant, too, said Rochwarger, because companies have searched Israeli grounds since 1948, when it was founded, by drilling a total of 530 exploratory wells. None of them have yielding “commercially viable oil,” he said.

Akef has scuffled with environmentalists who petitioned their drilling methods, which even reached Israel’s Supreme Court.

Israel, according to the Channel 2 report, uses some 270,00 barrels of oil per day. The importance of a discovery of oil of this magnitude, could potentially translate into a more self-reliant Israel. Recently, however, an Italian company made a “mega gas discovery” in Egypt of up to 30 trillion cubic feet, reported Reuters. This news will likely be a blow to Israel’s economy, bent on exporting its 3.9-billion barrel Leviathan field, to Egypt.

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.