What happened to Israel Leading the world in alternative energy?

Park Adullam

Bicyclists and hikers love to travel through Adullam National Park near Beit Shemesh, where David hid in the Cave of Adullam. But that scenery may be forever changed by oil-shale extraction.

In December 2009, Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd (IEI ) – a subsidiary of the American-based IDT Corporation – began an exploratory dig in the park, in preparation for implementing a new system for heating the underground shale to 650 degrees Fahrenheit, forcing the oil out of the shale rock and into pipes for further processing. It takes about 4 years.

This recent energy exploration in the Park Abdullam region has created a grassroots movement to save the antiquities park called The Committee to Save Adullam – a group of some 15 families many of whom hail from English-speaking countries.

According to the Committee, the Park Adullam region was the heart of Jewish civilization in Judea in the first centuries CE. Beautiful and valuable two-millennia-old antiquities fill the park, most buried safely underground.

Oil Shale exploration near Aderet.

They argue that: “If the extraction proceeds as plans, the underground heat and oil extraction risk destruction of the landscape, the antiquities, the wildlife, the air, and the ground-water.” The extraction process has never been profitable. “Even if new technique crosses the profitability threshold, local farmers who work the land will be entitled to no compensation and local tourism operators will suffer.”

The recent award-winning documentary movie GASLAND tells the story of the environmental destruction across the USA caused by natural gas extraction. Contrary to the image set by the energy industry, getting hydrocarbons out of shale is anything but clean.

According to an article in Haaretz, the Committee has taken their complaints to the Knesset and to Michael Steinhardt, who became Chairman of The Board of IEI this year:

Last month, the Save Adullam group sent Steinhardt a letter expressing their concerns about the oil development project, which uses a little-tested shale oil extraction technique. The process uses sustained heating of the ground at a depth of 1,500 meters to convert Kerogen – an organic chemical compound mix found in some rocks – into crude oil….

Steinhardt wrote back to the Adullam committee, requesting that its members no longer contact him directly but rather address all future concerns to IEI, a committee member told Anglo File [Ha’aretz]. In the letter, he also wrote: “If successful this industry will provide prosperity to Israel and your region,” and that “as long as Israel is dependent on foreign sources of energy we will never be truly secure.

The Committee has started an online petition, and the Jerusalem Report recently published a major article about the issue which gives voice to those for and against the project.

The irony of this controversy about oil-shale exploration is that Israel wants to build support in America by portraying Israel in a “green” light. However larger economic forces are pushing Israel into “ungreen” territory, such as risky alternative methods of hydrocarbon extraction. The argument that Israel needs this oil to be independent of oil imports is shortsighted. Even if these methods work— and there is every reason to not believe the hype— unless Israel makes a concerted effort to tap into alternative energy sources, Israel’s nascent oil industry will bever be able to keep up with Israeli’s increased appetite for oil.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah