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Oil Shale

Oil Shale

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Published by: heresadullam7373 on Mar 09, 2010
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TIS EARLYEVENING, ANDJoshuaFox, back home from his job asa project leader at IBM, is spendingtime with his children in front of hishouse in Aderet, a rural community inthe Elah Valley bordering the lush AdullamNational Park, which in recent years hasbecome home to dozens of English-speakingprofessionals drawn by its quiet, relaxed qual-ity of life.Or rather, as Fox notes, it used to be quiet.“Can you hear that?” he asks, referring to theconstant rat-ta-tat emanating from a 15-meter-high drill operating near the perimeter of Aderet, biting into the ground in search of oilshale samples. “Can you smell the fumes?”The residents of Aderet say they awoke oneday in late December to discover that theywere living next to what may potentially be amajor oil extraction site, in the heart of thecountry, some 25 kilometers (15 miles) south-west of Jerusalem. At a time of increasingglobal awareness that traditional oil reserveswill not be around forever, and an intensesearch for alternative energy sources, it turnsout that Israel is one of a relatively small num-ber of countries with significant reserves of oilshale – a potential source of liquid fuel. “Thishas major significance,” says Dr Yuval Bartov,CEO of Israel Energy Initiatives (IEI), whichis conducting exploratory drilling near Aderet.“Israel could attain energy independence, withall that implies. This is not speculation – thereserves exist.”But while there is no controversy over theexistence of oil shale reserves, the methodsused to extract oil from oil shale – usingimmense heating devices to raise the tempera-ture of the oil shale, hundreds of meters(yards) underground, to as high as 650°F foryears – can be a cause of concern. What willsomething like that do, ask local residents, toour environment?
HE RESIDENTS OF ADEREThave banded together in an attempt toprevent the oil shale extraction fromproceeding in and around Adullam park, pool-ing together skills and expertise they have asmiddle-class professionals. Demonstrationshave been held. Fox has created a “SaveAdullam” website. Lawyers are preparinglegal challenges. Ecologists, biologists andother experts in the sciences have pitched in.“We are looking into all the legal aspectsinvolved,” says Naftali Smulowitz, a Toronto-born lawyer who has lived in Aderet for thepast 12 years. “We are now trying to alert asmany statutory bodies as we can to the poten-tial damage this can cause, and may challengethe law under which the drilling license wasissued.”But the overall mood of the Save Adullamgroup, as of now, is palpable concern that theyare up against much larger forces than they canmuster. They have read up on the effects of extracting oil from shale on the environment inother places around the world, such asColorado and Scandinavia – and that has onlyintensified their concerns.At the same time, although their websitedepicts them as David up against Goliath, theyare also at times frustrated that they cannotpresent a clear, Hollywood-style narrative of citizen-activists fighting a big, bad company,
MARCH 1, 201030
Ziv Hellman
Israel is tapping oil shalereserves as a potentialsource of alternativeenergy – at what cost tothe environment?
 An Alternative to Oil
eager to rip out the trees and tear up the earth.Energy companies have long learnt to adoptand even embrace the mottoes of environmen-tal protection, and IEI is no exception.“Environmental responsibility is one of thefounding principles of our company,” saysBartov. “We have a commitment to minimaldisturbance of the environment when conduct-ing our work, and to restoring the sites to theexact condition they were in before we started,when we are done. We understand this is asmall country. If what we do is not sustainableenvironmentally, it will not be sustainable atall.”“We know they are not evil people,” saysFox, referring to IEI. “They are doing their jobs. But extracting oil from shale involvesimmense amounts of water and tremendousheat essentially to ‘fry’the oil out. That cancause gases to drip into the surrounding soiland aquifer. We are told that whatever damagemay be caused will be cleaned up. But whocan really give us a guarantee of that?”
N INTENSIVE SEARCH FOR OILshale, and for new methods of extract-ing oil from it, is being conducted on aglobal scale nowadays. The background to it isa growing sense that the era of easy, “cheap” oil– meaning oil that can be easily pumped out of near-surface, high-pressured oil wells – may bedrawing to a close. Known, large near-surfacefields have been pumped regularly for decades,and are aging. Drawing oil from depletingwells requires advanced methods that are typi-cally expensive to implement. Most new oildiscoveries in recent years have been in hard toget places, often miles under water, or deep inthe arctic regions, again implying large extrac-tion costs.At the Davos World Economic Summit inlate January, Thierry Desmarest, chairman of French oil giant Total, predicted that it wouldbe very difficult to raise crude oil productionworldwide above 95 million barrels a day,which is 10 percent more than today’s level.Desmarest told AFPthat the problem is not oneof insufficient reserves, but that “a lot of it isdifficult to produce,” and foresaw a possibleworld oil production peak in about 10 years.These sorts of predictions, coupled with theextreme volatility in oil prices over the pastcouple of years, have spurred many to seek alternatives to the crude petroleum that haspowered industrial civilization for more than acentury. Some of the efforts are focused onrenewable “green” alternatives, such as windand solar energy. But those technologies arestill years away from being ready to scale tomeet global needs. That has meant that otherhydrocarbon-based alternatives to petroleum,such as natural gas and oil shale, have caughtthe attention of energy industry leaders. If andwhen a shift away from petroleum occurs, theimplications, in economic and geo-politicalterms, will be profound, and along the waythere will be fortunes to be won or lost.These developments are being monitored inIsrael, which has for decades disappointedthose who hoped there may be petroleum oilfields in the Holy Land, to counterbalance theimmense oil wealth amassed by Arab coun-tries. No major oil has yet been struck in Israel,but large natural gas reserves were discovered80 kms (50 miles) off the coast of Haifa lastyear, of sufficient quantity to prompt the IsraelElectric Corporation to consider converting itspower-generating stations from running onimported coal to locally produced natural gas.While explorations continue for more natur-al gas fields, and the hope of an Israeli compa-ny striking oil never fails to intrigue investorsin the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, it has becomeincreasingly clear in recent years that Israel isone of the relatively few countries in the world– there are estimated to be about 30 such – sit-ting on significant reserves of oil shale.Oil shale is sedimentary rock that containskerogen, a compound that can be processed toyield hydrocarbon in liquid form, which canthen be used similarly to petroleum oil. Thepotential for extracting useful oil from oil shalehas been known for a long time, and there areestimates that the total amount of oil shaleresources in the world may exceed provencrude oil reserves. The problem is that the costof extracting oil from oil shale is sufficientlyhigh to have made it uneconomical comparedto pumping oil wells. With the costs of con-ventional oil extraction expected to rise, how-ever, efforts to find economical methods of using oil shale have intensified.Virtually every process for converting kero-gen into oil involves heating oil shale to veryhigh temperatures, in order to decompose itchemically, in a method called retorting. This isaccomplished either by shipping shale to pro-cessing sites, after conducting full-scale min-ing, or by on-site processing, involving heatingthe oil shale while it is still underground toyield a vapor, which can potentially accessmaterial at greater depths than standard mining.
ARTOVKEEPS AHANDFULOFoil shale samples in his Jerusalemoffice to show visitors what they look like. “Here, smell this,” he says encouragingly,as the unmistakeable whiff of oil rises from asample in a jar. “The presence of fuel is not asevident in every sample, but the extractionpotential is there.”Resembling a professorial Bill Gates,Bartov gives more of an impression of anearnest and concerned scientist than a high-powered chief executive. He earned his doc-torate in geology in Israel, and then moved toColorado, where he worked in shale oil extrac-tion, and joined the faculty of the ColoradoSchool of Mining as a professor. He returnedto Israel when he was recruited to head IEI,given his extensive experience in Colorado.IEI is a subsidiary of IDTCorporation, amultinational holding company specializing in
MARCH 1, 201031
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST:Joshua Fox and his children with, inthe background, the 15-meter-highshale drillnear their home in Aderet
 C O UR S  J  O S H U O
MARCH 1, 201032
the telecommunications and energy industries.It has long had a presence in Israel as atelecommunications company, but in the lastcouple of years decided to expand its energyarm in the country in order to explore shale oilpossibilities. Its overall energy company iscalled Genie, comprised of IDTEnergy,American Shale Oil, and IEI. IDTEnergyreported $227.7 million in revenues during thefirst three quarters of 2009. American ShaleOil is a joint venture with Total, whose mainaim is researching and developing on-siteextraction technologies. Genie owns approxi-mately 89 percent of IEI. One of the moreprominent private investors in IEI is HaroldVinegar, formerly a senior scientist at oil giantShell.IEI was issued a license by theInfrastructure Ministry in July 2008, under the1952 Petroleum Law, granting it the right tosearch for oil shale reservoirs within an areacomprising 238 square kilometres (some59,000 acres). “That is a large area,” saysBartov, “but it is an exploration licence alone– all it means is that if we have a successfulpilot locating a promising reservoir, we willthen receive a commercial licence to work onabout a square kilometre only, at that site.”IEI’s current activities are limited toremoving samples from underground, whichare collected for laboratory analysis. It canoperate only two sampling sites at a time, forstretches of about two to three months; the cur-rently active sites are in Beit Guvrin, and theAdullam site that has sparked the Aderetprotests. Bartov asserts that every site will bereclaimed and restored to what it looked likebefore work started there. “You won’t evenknow we had a site there,” he says. This is arequirement of the Infrastructure Ministry – if we do not do it, our licence will be revoked.”The multi-year plan formulated by IEI callsfor six exploratory drillings to be conducted in2010. Acommercial pilot that may produce500 barrels of oil is scheduled for 2011 and2012. If all goes well, the company will rampup to production levels between 2012 and2015, extracting up to 2,000 barrels a day, withfull-scale production beginning in 2015. Theonly extraction procedure the company willuse is on site, using thermal conduction, sinceits license does not permit mining activities.Bartov clearly believes in the potentialof the on-site heating method, evincing ageologist’s excitement when speakingabout the way in which heat brings aboutthe “maturation” of kerogen. “It yields jetfuel, naphtha, diesel, natural gas and hydro-gen,” he notes. “That’s impressive.”
OSHUAFOX, WHOSE CHILDHOODwas divided between Jerusalem andMadison, Wisconsin, holds a PhD fromHarvard University in Semitic Philology,which he studied before switching to softwareengineering as a career. He moved to Aderetwith his wife Louise, originally fromSunderland, U.K., over 12 years ago. The cou-ple sought a quiet place outside the city inwhich to raise a family, and their timing was just right: Aderet, which had for many yearsbeen a struggling agricultural community,obtained rezoning rights to construct residentialhousing, intended to attract young urban pro-fessionals, on formerly agricultural land. TheFox family happily traded their crampedJerusalem apartment for a house in thecountry.They now find the prospect of oil extractionbeing conducted near their home disturbing, tosay the least, and are also perturbed that noattempt was made to explain to or involve theresidents in what so clearly affects their qualityof life. “Amonth prior to the appearance of thedrill, we saw a wheat field paved over for whatlooked like a parking area,” says Fox. “But noone explained why.”“The local council obviously knew, becauseit had signed agreements with IEI,” addsSmulowitz, “but they did not tell us.”On the Save Adullam website, Fox has writ-ten that “the extraction technique will involvegiant on-site production facilities heating athousand-foot-thick section of undergroundshale to 650°F. Heating elements will snakeunderground to bake the ground for four years.Hundreds of wells will be needed to channelthe oil leaking through the shale into the pro-duction facility. The extraction will consumehuge amounts of scarce water. This will causedestruction of the landscape, the antiquities, thewildlife, the air and the groundwater.”Anxiety about possible water contamina-tion is prominent in the concerns raised byAderet residents. This was heightened byreports they read about major efforts undertak-en in Colorado to avoid water contaminationduring on-site shale oil extraction, whichincluded creating an underground barrier calleda “freeze wall” around the perimeter of theextraction zone, using refrigerated fluid to pre-vent groundwater from mixing with the extrac-tion zone. IEI, however, has no plans to imple-ment a similar technology.“The geology in Israel is very different fromthat in Colorado, with which I am familiar frommy work there,” says Bartov, in defense of thecompany’s decision. “In Colorado, the aquiferflows through the same layer as the oil shale,while in Israel, it flows far below. That meansthat the water is completely separate from theoil shale. There is no need for a freeze wallhere. The water authorities here are actuallyvery cautious, and we are fully cooperatingwith them to ensure that no water could possi-bly be contaminated by our work. In Colorado,for every barrel of oil extracted, three barrels of water are needed. That is not the case in Israel– our water needs will cost about 500 shekels amonth, about the water usage of one or twolarge households.”
OX ALSO NOTES THATNO ONEknows what the great heat of on-siteextraction will do to what is under-ground, which in this case includes archaeo-logical artifacts that have never been dug up –this area was at the heart of Judea in theHasmonean, Roman and Byzantine periods.Adullam is mentioned several times in theBible, most prominently as the location of theCave of Adullam, where David, having beenexpelled from the court of King Saul, foundrefuge and gathered “everyone that was in dis-tress, and every one that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented.” The Elah Valley iswhere David fought Goliath.In reply, Bartov points out that IEI’s on-siteprocess will take place 300 meters belowground – which means that it won’t be feltabove ground, or near the surface.“Archaeological artifacts are not locatedbelow 10 to 20 meters underground,” he says.“We will be heating the earth 300 metersbelow. It would take a million years for the heatdown there to affect anything close to the sur-face, including archaeological objects. Theywill be perfectly safe. In fact, consider thefreeze walls used in Colorado. They are locat-ed very close to where the main heating is tak-ing place – which shows you how insulated theheat is when on-site extraction isimplemented.”Adullam Park is nowadays a magnet fortourists, both local and foreign, who flock toone of the main large, green, open areas left incentral Israel for hiking, cycling and wildlifespotting, and it is likely that extensive oilextraction may severely curtail these activities.“Ascenic park near the middle of a crowdedcountry is an insane place to dig for oil,” con-tinues Fox, writing on the Save Adullam site.“The American parent corporation is testingthis as-yet-untried extraction technique on ‘for-

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