Maccabees Redux: Oil-Fracking Fight in Israel
NEW YORK (Dec. 22, 2011) — We need another Chanukah miracle.
On Chanukah we recall the victory of the few over the many and the weak over the powerful. We celebrate the miracle of the oil and of the reassertion of control over our historic homeland, the present-day land of Israel.
But, as history repeats itself, this Chanukah, the role of the Greek Assyrians and local Hellenized is being played by telecommunications-giant IDT Corporation, a multinational New York Stock Exchange-listed company that aims to frack for oil across Judea through its subsidiary Genie Energy, which owns Israel Energy Initiatives. Mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt chairs the board of Israel Energy Initiatives and news-magnate Rupert Murdoch, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Rothschild family-heir Lord Jacob Rothschild sit on Genie Energy's advisory board as major investors.
The few standing in their way of poisoning Israel’s water, land and air through hydrofracking across the state are the Green Zionist Alliance, fellow grassroots organization Save Adullam, GZA sister-organization Israel Union for Environmental Defense, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and umbrella-organization Life and Environment. But all of our collective budgets look like pocket change to the tycoons behind Israel Energy Initiatives.
While fracking in America is for natural gas, in Israel the coveted fossil fuel is oil. If you’re unclear about how harmful hydrofracking could be for Israel — and why it’s even worse environmentally than the kind of fracking happening in the United States — you should read the GZA’s extensive report published in May. Or, better yet, read the GZA’s 34-page report published in Hebrew in August. We plan to have the report translated into English by the end of next month.
In 2010 our Israeli partners in the fight against fracking challenged Israel Energy Initiatives in Israel’s supreme court, asserting that the company would need permission from the ministry of the environment to frack because the 1952 Oil Act only should apply to oil that’s naturally recoverable — crude oil. The oil that Israel Energy Initiatives is after, though, is shale oil in the form of kerogen — rock saturated in oil like a sponge saturated in water. Consequently, instead of just drilling for oil, like rigs in Alaska, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia do, recovering shale oil requires both fracking and in-situ retorting — heating the ground to about 600º F.
That process, of course, takes an immense amount of energy. And in Israel that energy comes from burning coal. So fracking in Israel is, economically speaking, trading coal for oil. If you look at it in a vacuum, the transaction may make sense, since oil has a higher market value than coal. But once you look at the whole picture, fracking becomes nonsense because it involves burning both coal and oil. Environmentally speaking, fracking for oil is a disastrous idea, one that would lead to massive increases in the country’s carbon footprint.
In 2009 Israel agreed at the Copenhagen climate-change talks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent and to increase renewable-energy production to 10 percent of the electric grid, up from the roughly 1 percent it is today. If Israel proceeds with fracking for oil, in all likelihood it will miss its climate-change targets by wide margins.
And, like in the United States, fracking may poison the water supply. But in Israel, water is even more precious than in America. Already, Israelis and Palestinians together use 20 percent more water annually than is naturally replenished. Over-reliance on the Sea of Galilee and the region’s aquifers is already threatening their usability as fresh-water resources. Fracking could damage an already fragile water system.
“The company's and the government's approach toward the safety of our drinking water is cause for deep concern,” said Rachel Jacobson, a leader of Save Adullam. “This level of risk to the aquifer is completely unacceptable.”
Israel Energy Initiatives argues that it only needs permission from the infrastructure ministry, which it has secured. In Israel’s sometimes slow-moving judicial system, the case has not yet been heard, and may not appear before the court until Pesach. But it may be irrelevant now: This month the infrastructure ministry said in the Knesset that it would have the ministry of the interior interpret an old law in a way to permit fracking to move forward without need for regulation of any kind, making the legal challenges moot. An official announcement is pending.
The fracking fight in Israel is far from over, but this Chanukah, we may have to make the miracle ourselves. Support the Green Zionist Alliance as we work to protect Israel’s environment by helping prevent hydrofracking in Israel. The GZA is only able to green Israel with your support. Please make your tax-deductible donation to the Green Zionist Alliance and help green Israel today!