Despite protests from residents and environmental groups, Afek Oil and Gas began experimental drilling for oil on the Golan Heights Tuesday.
Afek started the drilling at a site called Oil 5, which is located next to the town of Avnei Eitan, southwest of two reservoirs and in between two small rivers. On Tuesday, the first heavy machinery arrived at the site to begin preparations. The actual drilling will begin in two weeks.
“It’s exciting and it’s emotional, to see a project after a couple of years of preparation in the works to actually begin, that is very exciting,” Afek CEO Geoff Rochwarger told the Times of Israel on Tuesday evening after returning from the site. “It’s the beginning of a process, which will not be short and will not be simple, but a process we hopefully believe will bring energy and oil independence to the State of Israel.”
The preparations began after the High Court of Justice threw out a petition last week from environmentalist group Adam Teva V’Din (also called the Israel Union for Environmental Defense) to stop the oil exploration.
Environmental activists are adamantly opposed to the exploratory drilling, which they say will endanger priceless natural resources, including the water table that leads to the Kinneret. “Some of the drilling spots are less than a kilometer away from towns,” Gali Fux, a resident of the town of Kfar Herov in the Golan, said last week during the court hearing.
The drilling at Oil 5 will last two to three months, and will reach a depth of 1.2 to 2 kilometers (3,900 to 6,500 feet). If it discovers oil, Afek will use a variety of techniques to remove the oil and explore the possibility of commercial production in that area. Then it will cover the well to remove physical evidence of its existence, and move on to the next exploratory drill site. The exploratory stage is expected to take two to three years.
If a sizable amount of oil is discovered during the multi-year exploratory phase, Afek will return to the Northern Regional Planning and Building Committee with a plan for commercial production of oil.
The Northern Regional Planning and Building Committee approved a project for exploratory drilling in the Golan Heights in a 152 square mile area, starting in Katzrin and extending southward. This permit area represents about 33% of the 463 square miles that make up the Golan Heights. The area for exploration just delineates areas where Afek has permission to drill, though each well has an average footprint of 1.7 acres.
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. 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. Since Israel’s founding, companies searching for oil across Israel have drilled 530 exploratory wells, and none of them has turned up commercially viable oil, Afek CEO Geoff Rochwarger said in September.