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
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
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