Just south of Zion Oil’s Joseph license in Northern Israel lies the 60,000 acre Rosh Ha’ayin production lease belonging to Israeli oil company Givot Olam. A production lease, according to Israeli petroleum law, can only be issued after the exploration company has proven existing oil and/or gas reserves in place. In 2004 Givot Olam, through their three exploration wells, the Megeds 2, 3 and 4, proved to the Israeli government that there was oil under their exploration license … to the tune of nearly a billion barrels.
Despite attempts to develop the exploration wells, Givot Olam has yet to get commercial quantities of their oil discovery to the surface. The company began drilling the Meged #5 well last month, hoping to change their luck, take advantage of what they’ve leaned in the last five years and produce a sellable amount of oil.
Here’s something interesting; Givot Olam’s founder, Tovia Luskin, a trained petroleum geologist, began his quest for oil in Israel when he read about the prediction of vast petroleum reserves waiting to be discovered in the Holy Land. Would you like to know where Mr. Luskin first read about this possible discovery? The Bible … more accurately, the Torah.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that oil was discovered in Israel in 2004, by a company that based their search on scripture. Let’s put aside for a moment what the first fact does to the credibility of every critic and self-rising opinionater that has, over the last five years, trashed the idea that oil could ever be discovered in Israel based on scripture for the sole reason that it was based on scripture. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that we’re not waiting for someone to discover oil in Israel – it’s already been done; we’re just waiting for someone to bring it up and put it in barrels. Let’s put all that aside and take a quick look at the man who first discovered the oil prophesied by Jacob to his sons nearly 4,000 years ago.
In a story that seems to be dominated by Christian oil explorers, it’s a little ironic that the only oilman, using the same scriptures as the Christian explorers, to actually have a proven oil discovery in Israel, is Jewish.
Tovia Luskin, like his evangelical Christian counterparts, has been searching for oil in Israel for a long time now – more than twenty years. Like his Christian counterparts, Tovia used the Bible as his guide for finding oil in the Holy Land. Unlike his Christian counterparts, Tovia has actually discovered the oil promised to the Children of Israel in Genesis and Deuteronomy!
Luskin, a Russian Jew and a geologist, earned degrees in geophysics at Moscow State University. As a former lead geologist for Shell Oil and advisor to Bridge Oil in Sydney, Australia, his extensive background in the oil industry gave him the professional credence to back up his religious conviction that there was indeed, oil in Israel.
Working in Australia in 1988, Tovia, new as a practicing Jew, came upon a passage in the Torah in Deuteronomy.
Tovia is naturally quiet about sharing his religious beliefs concerning the oil with skeptics who would use them to discount his professional and technical efforts on the project. But to those sincerely interested, he happily quotes from memory the passage that began his quest:
About Joseph, he (Moses) said: “May the Lord bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above and the deep waters that lie below; with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield; with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills…”
(Deut. 33:13 NIV)
This passage in Deuteronomy along with his discovery that the medieval Jewish scholar Rashi interpreted the passage to mean that the “everlasting hills” were much older than the surrounding countryside was proof that he was on to something.
Rashi’s interpretation struck home with Luskin. He knew, as a geologist, that the concept of one geological feature (the hills) being of a different age than the land surrounding it was an accepted fundamental of modern geological science. But this concept was unknown in the time Rashi wrote his interpretation. In Luskin’s view, Rashi had no way of interpreting the passage this way other than by divine guidance.
These two proofs were enough for him to write to Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, one of the world’s renowned Jewish scholars, for his review and consideration of the interpretations. After reviewing his material, the Rebbe, responded noting, “I had pleasure in reading your discussion …” and “… You will tell me good news ….”
This was enough for Luskin to take action. He traveled to New York for a personal audience with the Rebbe. The Rebbe pronounced over him a Bracha (blessing) regarding his proposed search for oil in the Promised Land, “You have my blessing that you will have good news in the near future.” This innocuous sounding blessing carried tremendous authority for Luskin. He believed the Rebbe to be G_d’s Moshiach (Messiah), the one to bring redemption to the Jews. This was enough for Luskin to sell his home in Sydney, Australia and immigrate to Israel.
By 1993 Tovia Luskin had assembled a team of geologists and oil experts (most of them Russian from his previous acquaintance at Moscow Sate University) to form Givot Olam Oil Exploration, LLC. Givot Olam, Hebrew for “everlasting hills,” secured a 62,500 acre exploration license just north and east of Tel Aviv.
Their first well, the Meged 2, was drilled in 1994 and successfully tested 40° API oil at 17,000 feet. In 1998 the Meged 2 was retested and showed a 400 barrel per day flow rate. The Meged 3 well was drilled two years later a few miles to the west of the Meged 2. This well logged 47 feet of pay (the vertical area of the well from which to extract oil) at 15,000 feet deep, but had to be shut down because of mechanical problems in the hole. The Meged 4, north of the Meged 2 and Meged 3, was drilled in 2003. At 16,000 feet the Meged 4 began flowing oil and gas. The rate of flow was unspecified but Givot Olam reported a commercial discovery of 980 million barrels. With the Meged 4 discovery the Givot Olam eighteen month exploration license became a thirty year production lease.
Today Givot Olam is in the process of developing the Meged Oil Field with plans for 10 wells in a 50 square kilometer project area. With proper development each well is conservatively estimated to produce over 900 barrels per day for the first year, and then decline to a steady 400 barrels per day over each well’s seven year expected lifespan. The ten wells in this field, roughly one-fifth of Givot Olam’s production lease area, in the conservative view is capable of producing over 12 million barrels of oil over the next seven years.
Israel has only produced 20 million barrels in its entire fifty year history of oil production. Personally Luskin estimates the Givot Olam lease area to hold as many as a billion barrels of oil. Twenty percent of those billion barrels, Luskin believes, is recoverable. Two hundred million barrels … not bad for Jewish Russian immigrant using the Torah and his Rebbe’s blessing as a guide!
Does Israel really have oil? That seems to be the question everyone’s asking. Maybe it’s the wrong question. Turn’s out, Exxon and Shell have known about Israel’s oil for nearly ten years. Here’s a clipping from The Jerusalem Post, March 5, 1999. I’ll copy the text here since the clipping is a little hard to read (click on the clipping for a cleaner version).
As a geologist and managing director of various oil exploration companies in Israel over the past 20 years, I was quoted in several paragraphs of Michael Arnold’s article “Slippery dreams” (January 22). I would like to amend and add certain facts as follows:
The oil potential of Israel was evaluated twice at the request of the Israeli government. In 1962, Lewis Weeks, the former chief geologist at Exxon, determined that “the potential ultimate oil resources of Israel should be of the order of 500 to 2,000 million barrels from primary recovery… The figures do not include gas… which may equal 50% and upwards of that of the oil.”
In 1979, James Wilson, former chief geologist or Shell (US) determined that on-shore Israel (the off-shore and the Dead Sea Rift Valley were not included) has a potential of330 to 2,000 million barrels of recoverable oil.
Both these experts have been president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
Since the Wilson evaluation in 1979, extensive data have been accumulated relating to on-shore and off-shore Israel. From this data, it becomes clear that the total may exceed 2,000 million barrels.
Israel’s per annum consumption amounts to about 70 million barrels.
The 1962 evaluation predicted that “the finding and recovery of this oil and gas may require many decades” -and evidently assumed that such efforts would be made. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
It is most likely that this failing is one of the main reasons why the forecast potential has not yet been discovered.
2,000 million barrels? That’s 2 billion barrels. That’s Exxon and Shell saying it. So the question isn’t “does Israel have any oil?” The question is, “If the big boys have known about this for so long, why haven’t they done anything about it?” The answer, unfortunately, is pretty easy. They’ve got larger, established assets in the Arab world and the Arab world has told them, “If you do business with Israel, don’t bother doing business here.” That’s what the 1973 oil embargo was all about.
What’s Israel’s answer? Keep supporting those who are exploring for the oil they know is there. What can we do about it? Stop wondering if Israel really has any oil. It does. If you want to see it come to the surface, support the exploration already in country. This piece of history will come about, and it won’t be long until it does. Those involved in that effort are destined to be written in to the story of Israel’s future.