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May 3, 2013 9:47 am

Can Israel Become an Energy Superpower?

avatar by Zach Pontz

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Gas odorant injection facility. Photo: Glen Dillon.

Can Israel become an energy superpower? Some experts think so. A geologist named Yuval Bartov, and Harold Vinegar, an oil-industry legend, are preparing to test a method to “basically melt oil out of rock while it is still underground, then pump the liquid to the surface for collecting,” Time Magazine reports.

“The…term for the form Israel’s oil takes may be kerogen, the name for the organic matter embedded in rock — any rock, not necessarily shale — that, were it buried a few hundred meters deeper in the earth, would have melted into petroleum,”Karl Vick writes for Time. And Israel has a lot of this kerogen.

“We think that within a decade we can get 50,000 to 100,000 barrels a day,” says Relik Shafir, chief executive officer of a company called Israel Energy Initiatives, which is working with Bartov and Vinegar.

As chief scientist for Shell, Vinegar helped pioneer the methods he and Bartov hope will enable Israel to exploit oil reserves that, in the form of rock, appear to be as large as the oil that sits below the surface of the Saudi Arabian desert in liquid form.

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The two are also banking on Israel’s natural gas discovery off the coast of Haifa in 2009. The Tamar field recently went online and, while already making Israel a major player in natural gas, could help facilitate an even bigger find.

“From our viewpoint, it couldn’t be better to have discovered all this natural gas,” Vinegar says, noting a pipeline would run only 55 km (35 miles) from the coast to the work site where they extract the gas from the rock.

The kerogen formation that geologist Bartov first confirmed in 2009 extends beyond Israel. It runs across the few kilometers east to the West Bank and into Jordan, where the known kerogen formation is as large as all of Israel itself. Shell is working with King Abdullah II to develop it, in a country that has almost no mineral resources.

“The truth is, Israel is sitting on the best,” says Vinegar.

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