It takes faith to explore for oil. Anywhere.
But in Israel, which produces almost no oil and imports nearly all its oil needs, the premium is put on science -- along with a little faith, too.
About 470 wells have been drilled in the country since the 1940s but the Heletz field, discovered in 1955, is the only producing field and produces less than 100 barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Israel has sizeable deposits of oil shale, perhaps 600 million tons recoverable, with average production of about 9,000 barrels a day. Most of Israel’s shale oil resources are located in the Rotem Basin region of the northern Negev desert near the Dead Sea.
So for decades, Israel has had to augment its supply by importing approximately 240,000 bbo/day from Russia via the Black Sea and from Egypt.
Sensing the situation would only grow worse, the Israeli government commissioned a study in 1981 to determine the potential of hydrocarbons in the country. AAPG member Stephen Pierce was the project geologist at the time for U.S.-based Superior Oil and in charge of that study.
“I wrote the report for the Israeli government,” Pierce said. “All her neighbors had oil; Israel wanted to know how much she had.”
Israel’s Petroleum Commission has estimated that the country could contain two billion barrels of oil reserves, most likely located underneath natural gas reserves. Geologically, Israel appears to be connected to the oil-rich Paleozoic petroleum system stretching from Saudi Arabia through Iraq to Syria.
Specifically, Pierce concluded that an area around Kibbutz Ma’anit had a major “gravity high” that could prove to be a regional paleo high, indicating it might be a potential energy bonanza to the country.
In 1994, Eliezer Kashai -- current vice president of exploration for Zion Oil & Gas but then with Sdot Neft Ltd. -- independently came to the same conclusion and actually did some drilling on this gravity high at Ma’anit. The well got to 2,335 meters, but because of volcanics-caused complications and other operational delays, the company ran out of money before it could drill any deeper.
Dallas-based Zion Oil and Gas then picked up concession and resumed drilling. The Zion concession -- is to the west of Jerusalem, specifically south of Haifa and northeast of Tel Aviv.
According to Pierce, who now has been hired as the project geologist for Zion, “We have successfully tested that (gravity high) hypothesis.”
Further, he added, the company now has a well that can test two important areas:
- The Um-Al-Fahm anticline (the gravity high underlying Kibbutz Ma’anit).
- Test fracture plays in the Triassic.
“The well is important for another reason,” Pierce added, “as the major gravity paleo high allows the possibility of testing deeper Permian targets, a relatively new play in this part of the Middle East. If this opens up, it could positively affect the exploration direction in the region.
“If successful,” he said, “the Ma’anit area play can significantly upgrade their national reserves.”
How long would a project like this take to develop and implement?
And now Pierce sounds more like a politician than a scientist: “As long as it would take -- but there is another facet to this.”
Perhaps it’s best at this point to let the company’s Web site explain:
From its inception, the calling of Zion’s Web site is filled with biblical verses and prophecies, has set up two charitable trusts totaling 6 percent of royalties to support “projects for the restoration of the people and land of Israel.”
According to Pierce, while the company’s founder is a born-again Christian who dreams of finding oil for the state of Israel, he, Pierce, approaches the endeavor purely scientifically.
“His (company founder and chairman John Brown) is based on the Bible; my rationale is strictly technical.”
Actually Pierce is understating the contrast. Brown has been quoted as saying, “God sent me for one purpose: to help Israel with oil. I believe God talked to me.”
“We’re engineers, geologists,” Pierce said, reiterating his motivational drive, even if his owner gets his inspiration elsewhere.