The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES -

The Holy Land’s first oil ex­plo­ration dates back be­fore the es­tab­lish­ment of the state. The Bri­tishowned Iraq Pe­tro­leum Com­pany con­ducted ge­o­log­i­cal sur­veys and drilled a cou­ple of shal­low wells in the ’40s, but found noth­ing. Since then, gov­ern­ment and private com­pa­nies have tried their luck for decade af­ter decade, but so far with lim­ited suc­cess. Ma­jor in­ter­na­tional oil com­pa­nies have steered clear for fear of jeop­ar­dis­ing their in­ter­ests in the Gulf states, leav­ing the field open for the min­nows. The Arab boy­cott has not, how­ever, de­terred Egypt from sup­ply­ing equip­ment and ma­te­ri­als. “We can get what we need from Cairo, where al­most ev­ery big ser­vice com­pany has an of­fice, within three days,” Zion Oil says. “There are no reser­va­tions on the Egyp­tian side.” Is­rael’s first com­mer­cial dis­cov­ery came near Ashkelon in 1955. The Heletz field yielded 20 mil­lion bar­rels of oil. It is still pro­duc­ing, but on a small scale. Else­where in the south, gas was found in 1961 at the Zo­har field near Arad. It de­liv­ered about 2 bil­lion cu­bic me­tres. Oil was found again in the early 1970s near Ash­dod, but ran dry af­ter pro­duc­ing a mod­est two mil­lion bar­rels over five years. An­other well in the same area yielded a min­i­mal amount of gas. In the ’80s and early ’90s, small finds were ex­ploited in the Judean desert and near Ein Gedi. Fur­ther north, Givot Olam, a private com­pany, ex­plored a more promis­ing field near Kfar Saba in 1994. Ex­perts say that the oil is of high qual­ity, but that the quan­tity was not enough to jus­tify pump­ing. Yet with world prices now touch­ing $100 a bar­rel, that may yet change. Is­rael has been more suc­cess­ful off-shore. Two fields 15 miles west of Ash­dod, with proven re­serves of 1.5 tril­lion cu­bic feet, are cur­rently sup­ply­ing gas to Ash­dod and Tel-Aviv.

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