Israel to issue no further permits for terrestrial oil exploration

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar pledges a focus on renewable energy to combat climate change; lambasting predecessor, she also vows appointments on merit, not connections

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative photograph of drilling oil on land. (bashta, iStock at Getty Images)
Illustrative photograph of drilling oil on land. (bashta, iStock at Getty Images)

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar announced Tuesday that Israel will stop issuing new permits for oil exploration on land.

“Starting today, no more licenses will be issued for oil exploration on land in the State of Israel,” she said at the opening of an annual conference on energy and the economy.

“Oil is a highly polluting fuel that has no place in a country that is doing everything to reduce the use of coal and understands that [fossil fuel] gas is also only an intermediate solution until we can rely on renewable energies,” said Elharrar, a Yesh Atid party member who was appointed minister in June.

In a stinging rebuke of her predecessor Yuval Steinitz, of the opposition’s Likud party, Elharrar also said that from now on, officials in government companies under Energy Ministry control would be chosen on the basis of professional suitability rather than political connections.

“Contrary to the previous regime, under which connections were the determining factor, appointments to government companies for which I am responsible will be based on the appointee’s experience and the needs of the particular company,” she said.

The minister stressed that she would be focusing on renewable energy, again in contrast to Steinitz, who championed the cause of offshore drilled gas.

Arrangements Committee Chairwoman Karin Elharrar speaks during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Further criticizing the previous government, Elharrar said: “After three years without a state budget and without reforms, it’s important that we make progress. The [former] government didn’t really give a high profile to climate change and the need to battle against it. We have to act fast and with determination.”

The Energy Ministry later clarified to The Times of Israel that the minister was referring to terrestrial crude oil and not to oil shale. At present, there are five licenses for terrestrial oil production and three permits for exploration.

The previous government announced in early 2020 that new permits will no longer be issued for oil shale exploration, although it put off decisions on granting licenses granted to two companies in southern Israel. That appeared to be the reason for the exception mentioned in the ministry statement.

Udi Adiri, director general of the Energy Ministry, said at the same conference that NIS 2 billion ($625 million) would be invested in sustainable energy to reach the government’s target of generating 30 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Interministerial teams were working to remove bureaucratic obstacles, he added.

Energy Minister Director General Udi Adiri speaking at the annual Energy and Economy confernce iin central Israel. (Shauli Landner)

He also said that Israel had crossed the 10% renewables target in the second quarter of this year, with actual production hitting 10.7% in April, 10.6% in May and 10% in June.

The government was supposed to have reached an annual 10% renewables goal by the end of 2020.

Israel Greenpeace director Jonathan Aikhenbaum said in response to Adiri’s figures that the monthly results did not change the fact that annually, Israel was still producing just 6% from renewable sources. Ensuring an annual 10% would require the production of at least 15% from renewables during the sunniest months, to allow for some of the energy to be stored for cloudier days, he said.

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