God’s pre­cious oil

An Amer­i­can busi­ness­man has spent mil­lions of dol­lars drilling for oil near Haifa. He is con­vinced that there are vast Is­raeli de­posits wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered and ex­ploited. Yet his ev­i­dence is no ge­o­log­i­cal sur­vey — it is the Bi­ble

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES - BY ERIC SIL­VER

JOHN BROWN, a born-again Texas Chris­tian and re­formed al­co­holic, ac­knowl­edges no doubts. He be­lieves in the lit­eral truth of ev­ery word in the Holy Scrip­tures — and in the power of his faith to find oil in Is­rael, where so many have failed over the past 60 years. He has his texts to prove it. The mis­sion state­ment of his com­pany, Zion Oil and Gas, draws on Deuteron­omy 32:13, in which Moses tells the Is­raelites that the Lord made Ja­cob “ride on the high places of the Earth, that he might eat the in­crease of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock”.

Cyn­i­cal Is­raelis have heard it all be­fore. When you men­tion Brown’s vi­sion, they snig­ger: “They al­ways have a text.” They sug­gest that the He­brew word “ she­men” means olive oil rather than pe­tro­leum.

But Brown has found ex­perts who dis­agree, and his “Ma’anit” site, at Megiddo, in the coastal plain be­tween Ne­tanya and Haifa, is be­ing taken more se­ri­ously than most.

Zion Oil has re­cruited a pro­fes­sional team of ge­ol­o­gists and en­gi­neers, led by Glen Perry, a hard-headed Texas oil man with an Is­raeli wife.

R i c h a r d R i n b e r g , a for­mer Lon­don ac­coun­tant and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist who moved to Ra’anana in 1996, serves as chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Per­rycon­fides that he had to be con­vinced. Rin­berg, a mod­ern-Ortho­dox Jew hud­dling in a JNF-UK car­rally jacket, ad­mits that what they are call­ing “the Joseph Project” re­mains a high-risk ven­ture.

None­the­less, Zion Oil has raised $25 mil­lion from 5,900 in­vestors since it was launched on the New York Stock Ex­change this spring. Many of them are Amer­i­can Bi­ble-belt Chris­tians, but an Ortho­dox Jew put in $1 mil­lion.

“The mar­ket,” Rin­berg claims in Zion Oil’s mod­est of­fices on the Cae­sarea in­dus­trial park, “be­lieves our project has some­thing go­ing for it.”

Two years ago, a first well drilled down to 15,800 ft and yielded cred­i­ble signs of oil and gas. “Our science is con­firm­ing John Brown’s faith,” Perry con­tends. “I’ve no prob­lem with faith, but you’ve got to have con­firm­ing cir­cum­stances or events. That’s what we, as a sci­en­tific team, do.”

They drilled through one zone where they re­cov­ered 40 to 50 bar­rels of oil. Other zones showed traces of gas heav­ier than meth­ane, as well as pieces of as­phalt that lab­o­ra­tory tests found con­tained light oil.

John Brown’s sin­gle-minded quest be­gan in 1981. His mar­riage was fall­ing apart. He had been in and out of al­co­hol re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion four times. His ma­chine-tool busi­ness was in trou­ble.

“I had a born-again ex­pe­ri­ence,” he re­calls over the phone from his Dal­las head­quar­ters. “Even though I had prac­tised Chris­tian­ity, I had never made a pro­fes­sion of faith or ac­cepted Je­sus as my per­sonal saviour. I had a trans­for­ma­tion that just over­whelmed me be­cause I had never felt such a pres­ence of God

Zion Oil chair­man John Brown ( left) ex­plains his vi­sion to an Is­raeli TV re­porter

PHOTO: AP

Work­ers at the Zion Oil site in north­ern Is­rael have drilled down al­most 16,000 ft in a bid to strike com­mer­cially vi­able oil de­posits

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