The Great Israeli Oil Rush

Howard Jonas’ financial dream team–Lord Jacob Rothschild came on board this week–sees Saudi-level potential.

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Golda Meir often told the old Jewish joke (though hardly thinking it funny), why did Moses shlep us for 40 years to the one place in the Middle East without oil?

Now, from Golda to black gold, an oil rush is on, with some of the top businessmen in the world betting big money on Israeli oil, and the only laugh may be the last laugh.

Howard Jonas, a major philanthropist and founder of IDT, once primarily known for its telecom business, told The Jewish Week, “We believe that under Israel is more oil than under Saudi Arabia. There may be as much as half a trillion barrels. The Saudis have 260 [billion barrels]; Israel definitely has at least 300, and might have as much as [500].”

Meanwhile, Jonas has put together an investment dream team. This week, media magnate Rupert Murdoch and Lord Jacob Rothschild, of the famous banking family, have placed their high stack of chips in front of Jonas. Earlier this year, the hedge fund legend, and another major Jewish philanthropist, Michael Steinhardt, joined as an investor and chairman of IDT’s spin-off, Israel Energy Initiatives (the Israeli wing of IDT’s Genie Energy division).

Skeptics say this group is tilting at windmills, but look long enough and those windmills are looking like oil drills.

Jonas has for several years been attempting to extract oil from shale on U.S. government land in Colorado, working a 10-year lease because that’s how long it can take. In 2008, Jonas, who has developed various projects in Israel over the years, was granted a license by the Israeli government to explore and develop a shale reservoir of 238 square kilometers under the Shfela Basin. Under Israeli law, the state would receive royalties from IEI. Aside from delays stemming from persistent challenges from environmentalists, IEI is ready to go. “We’re waiting for the final permit,” says Jonas, “so we can start heating the ground and getting the oil.”

The oil, however, is not liquid but in shale, and “oil shale has broken many hearts,” writes BusinessWeek of the Israel project. The process of turning rock-solid shale into liquid is costly, lengthy and difficult, not to mention that it might, according to critics, lead to excessive gas emissions, scenic defacement, damage to the water table, and overall leave parts of the environment messier than the mess left by the Cat in the Hat before the Cat’s eventual and impeccable cleanup.

Israel’s Union for Environmental Defense has gone to court to stop Jonas. But it is precisely Israel’s defense — Israel’s economic and military defense, and energy independence — that is motivating the Jonas team every bit as much as their business sense.

Jonas, an Orthodox Zionist, sees the project as a perfect storm of doing well by doing good. But one doesn’t have to be Orthodox or Zionist to agree. The hunger for not just Israeli but American energy independence, with its global political ramifications not to mention potential oil profits, has led MarketWatch to determine that 92 percent of market observers are now “bullish” on the Newark, N.J.-based IDT, whose stock had fizzled to just 66 cents per share before taking off like a Roman candle, as confidence in the oil project spread. IDT’s price now stands at $20.22, 20 times higher than its 52-week low.

Some of the “enthusiasm” for the Israel project is based on IDT’s handling of its “oil experiment in Western Colorado,” writes BusinessWeek. Other confidence in Israel’s energy potential has come (unrelated to IEI) from a recent natural gas find within Israel’s territorial waters in the Mediterranean, reports Bloomberg, a 30 trillion cubic-feet reservoir, double the gas reserves of the United Kingdom and enough to support exports to Europe and Asia.

Jonas said he first began thinking about the Israel oil project “about four years ago. While working with the shale in Colorado, which is the largest shale deposit, I learned that the second-biggest deposit was in Israel. And it’s something I always wanted to do.”

He’s prepared to be patient. “Commercial production,” Jonas says, “is probably 11 or 12 years away, a decade the soonest.”

It is common knowledge that the major oil companies have shied away from Israel because of pressure from the Arab boycott and the close relationships between the oil executives and Arab leaders. And yet, the French oil giant, Total, has now invested with Jonas, and joining Genie’s advisory board in September were such “mainstream” oil veterans as Harold Vinegar, former chief scientist of Royal Dutch Oil, and former Vice President Dick Cheney, who also served as CEO of Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oilfield services corporations.

Nevertheless, it is the religious Zionists, such as Jonas and Christian Zionist groups, who have been in the vanguard of Israel’s oil exploration.

Christian Zionist groups have been citing biblical verses that they say refer to vast oil reserves beneath the Promised Land, adding that Israel’s energy independence and success is a prelude to Ezekiel’s scenario for the final Redemption, among other prophecies.

John Brown, founder and chairman of Zion Oil & Gas, a primarily Christian group exploring Israel’s energy potential, told Charisma, a Christian publication, “If they [Israel] become an oil producer tomorrow… [it] will bring an economic opportunity that will be unparalleled. ... Israel has a unique place in history where God is going to do a lot for the Jewish people.”

By contrast, Jonas, while often acting with a religious and spiritual imperative, professionally and personally, doesn’t speak with the apocalyptic urgency of the Christian Zionist oilmen.

Jonas nevertheless points out that some of best people working for him are Christians who have been “heroic” in their desire to help Israel, a similar phenomenon, Jonas said, to the Jews and non-Jews who brought their expertise to Israel in its fight for survival and birth in 1948. At that time, there were those such as Col. Mickey Marcus, a Jewish West Point graduate, later dramatized by Kirk Douglas in the film “Cast A Giant Shadow,” who helped organize Israel’s army before dying in Israel’s service.

Jonas gives the example of Vinegar and Scott Nguyen, both top scientists at Shell, “who moved to Israel to work on the project.” Vinegar and his wife, who are at an age and time in life when “they want to be together,” said Jonas, decided to live in Israel “where they don’t speak the language, and where they don’t have all their friends, but she feels that he’s a hero, and he should do this for the Jewish people.”

Jonas paused, adding that one of his top men, Fred Carl, recently died of a heart attack. “He was the former head of experiments of Shell’s field operations; a real gnarled Marine, a very devout Catholic guy, in his 60s, who gave up everything, including his position at Shell, to move to Israel and help the Jewish people get this oil out.

“Fred decided, while he was in Israel, that he was going to visit all the churches in Israel,” said Jonas. “He visited more than 40. We weren’t paying him big money; he just wanted to have a part of this great undertaking that was going to free the world of Arab oil. To me, he died in the service of Israel.

“These guys are all heroes,” added Jonas.

If Jonas, Steinhardt, Rothschild and the rest are able to turn Israel’s underground shale into an oil reserve the size of Saudi Arabia’s, thereby changing the geopolitical and economic balance of the Middle East, they’ll be heroes, too, giving Israel a gift beyond all their prior philanthropy combined.

And that Moses fellow, maybe he knew what he was doing.

Last Update:

04/11/2011 - 08:23

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You might want to read the US Government report, 'Subsidence and Fault Activation Related to Fluid Energy Production, Gulf Coast Basin Project' on the web site. The report details how oil & gas production activated faults under Southern Louisiana. The land has sunk by nearly 1 meter in some places. It contributes to wetland loss and flooding here. You might want to watch for earthquakes over there. Few people would notice a quake in mostly vacant Western Colorado. They would in Israel. Just saying.

What a nonsense! How come that Israel mastered the theft of the Iraqis energy supply? Or may be any country buying oil and paying $$$ for this oil is commiting theft?
I quote from the article: Howard Jonas, a major philanthropist and founder of IDT, once primarily known for its telecom business, told The Jewish Week, “We believe that under Israel is more oil than under Saudi Arabia. There may be as much as half a trillion barrels. The Saudis have 260 [billion barrels]; Israel definitely has at least 300, and might have as much as [500].” --end quote. The very idea that 500 billion barrels of oil (which would have amounted to 20% of the global petroleum deposits before the industrial revolution) has eluded detection by geologists until recently is ridiculous. The idea that all this oil is to be found within Israel's internationally recognized territory is a dead give-away. The claim is a scam and a hoax. The oil to which it alludes, if Israel has any, came originally from Iraq via pipelines. The myth of the recently discovered giant Israeli oil deposits intended to cover Israel's massive theft of another country's vital energy supplies which are the property of the Iraqis.
Israel consumes crude oil at the rate 231,000 barrels/day. All this oil is imported. At the current market price of $85/barrel Israel as a Nation pays $20 millions daily to foreign oil producers. It comes to $7,3 billion per year. On the other hand the hydrocarbon deposit in Israeli oil shale is roughly estimated as 100 billion barrels. In the case of environmentally responsible recovery from oil shale Israeli GDP can be increased to the same value of $7.3 billion per year, and nothing is spent for the oil import. Number of new jobs are created and price of gasoline price at the pump is dropped by twice. While this picture seems rosy, with the recent advances in heavy oil recovery in Alberta, Canada and, along with new methods of environmental technology, this task is feasable and should not be desregarded. Of course, the ENVIRONMETAL SAFETY should dictate the recovery method, not vice versa.
I cannot say much but I wish with all my heart for the sick of Israel and all the jews that this project will never take place with god's helps. these people will make money at the risk of Israeli citizen,. ELOHIM ISHMOR HAL ISRAEL AND ITS HABITANTS. annette and david.
Folks in Dimona are breathing the smoke from oil shale which caught on fire. And now the new operation is going to heat the ground near Bet Shemesh to 650F
Anonymous said "Northern Negev has oil shales as well.": Yes, and take a look at what just happened -- the shale caught on fire. And the plan for the Adullam area is to heat the soil to 600 Degrees Fahrenheit, something not done in the Negev. Bet Shemesh residents better get some gas masks.
Northern Negev has oil shales as well. This effort should not destroy historical park land. On the other hand this the whole country is Holly Land. So, the green opponents has easy line of defense.
Go and look at what an environmental mess they've made in Colorado, and then explain to us just how it will help Israel to have a huge percentage of this small country defaced and destroyed...!!! And davka one of the most beautiful areas of the country, some of the rare and precious parkland that exists here. That is what they want to destroy! Go and organize solar energy instead - we have plenty of sunshine here, for free, with no need to cause pollution....
Only to read the new "big shots" names on the least is making me worry,but we will keep on fighting against this project,perhaps not with big money,but with big hearts and widest concern for what is about to be around us. Join us on regards from Israel.
There are such better ways to produce energy in Israel. There are more than 300 days of sunlight and the sun is high in the sky! there is lots of winds. there are places with altitude difference which can use excessive electricity during the night and convert it to required electricity during peak hours No need to ruin that beautiful and rare natural resort. Gadi
It's clear that these "philanthropists" are interested in making money, which is fair enough from their perspective. But those of us here in Israel should be aware of this and not fool ourselves that our wellbeing comes into the picture. The costs to us will be a lot higher than anything we're going to gain. It's more than the destruction of a beautiful piece of landscape: the Adullam valley is close to the city of Bet Shemesh, where thousands of people will be exposed to gas emissions, not to mention the risks to the water table, which will affect many more. If these "major philanthropists" want to invest in Israel, why not invest in our state-of-the-art clean technology, hybrid cars, etc. instead of creating yet more fossil fuels. Oh yeah, I forgot, it's about the money...
this is not oil! This is the most poluting type of energy! for a few bucks they will destroy whats left of jerusalem nature! stop them before they destroy my home! no-one will live there when the view will become a bg ugly mine and the air will be extreamly poluted. Everywhere they build those mines far from ppl, but in Israel they do this very close to us!
I don't think I have ever read anything more cynically manipulative than Howard Jonas's comparing Col. Mickey Marcus who died in Israel’s service with Fred Carl who died of a heart attack and Harold Vinegar and his wife making aliya. However good everyone's intentions may be, please don't forget this is about making money for an international company who will be selling the oil to Israel at whatever the current going rate will be, and this method is only economically viable because of the high price of oil. One of the reasons IDT has brought its experiment to Israel is that Colorado revised its oil and gas rules in April 2009 to provide greater protection for the local environment, so making IDT's experiment less viable there.
The American billionnaire sees "Saudi-level potential." Do we want to be Saudi Arabia, in which the average resident is POORER than the average Israeli (though back in the 1980's they were 4 times as rich)? is worth reading on this. Maybe Vinegar and Scott Nguyen are Jewish; Fred Carl was not. But they are not coming here to "help" Israel. They are coming to make big bucks. Nothing wrong with that, but building refineries in our Biblical parks and heating the undersoil to 650F, in order to send money to the US, is not "Zionism."
Zion Oil. There the ones that will start the frenzy with a rather large discovery soon.
These Americans claim to be Zionist, yet ruin the livelihood of Israeli vintners and devastate the beautiful land where Dovid once fought Golias. gives the details
One cannot over emphasize the severity of the various direct and indirect impacts of the oil shale extraction and refining processes. It is widely known and proven that oil shale development contributes to harmful gas emissions, water quality impairment and high water consumption. Many of the impacts of ex situ oil drills and expected impacts from in situ development are even documented in an environmental review prepared by the US government agency responsible for overseeing development on public lands ( ). One cannot and should not hide such information from the Israeli public. The fact is that greenhouse gas emissions from shale oil extraction in the controversial experimental heating system are tremendous and of course much higher than those emitted from commonly used drilling methods. These are major concerns. Also, it should be noted that, unlike Colorado, the Adullam Valley is situated in the very center of Israel, near villages, moshavim and the developing city of Bet Shemesh. The area is also dedicated to farming, famous for its vineyards and wineries, and because of its beauty and history, a tourist Mecca for visitors from both Israel and throughout the world. So, my question is: "For what"? With all due respect, what is causing the government of Israel to allow a foreign-based entity to endanger the fragile Israeli water system, our ecology, tourism and public health? Why should we be guinea pigs in an unproven, uneccesary and unhealthy method of oil drilling that the United States shuns???
I think we need to learn from the state of Colorado, which is also rich in shale oil--Colorado revised its oil and gas rules in April 2009 to provide greater protection for the local environment. The quote about Golda underlines the problem: Israel feels that it "missed out" because it did not have oil, and now the government will allow oil shale extraction without considering the long-term effects on the environment. Sorry, these guys aren't my heroes--my heroes are looking for sources of energy that do not rely on fossil fuels.
American imperialism - dressed up as heroic Zionism. Jonas and his heroic friends will make a fortune, but their oil-shale industry will risk the health and ruin the lives of thousands of Israeli citizens. Dirty, risky non-conventional oil-shale industry is WAY-TOO-BIG for the small, densely populated state of Israel. Developing oil-shale industry in the heart of the country is NOT the way to help Israel.
The initial industrial facility is planned for the historical location where David fought Goliath. Israelis are working to prevent these facilities from devastating the countryside. See
There's already a gold rush going on in Israel and it's called residential real estate. Why speculate on previously undiscovered oil shale beneath the ground when you can invest in middle-income residential housing in Jerusalem and reasonably expect a 50% return on your money in only five years? Mark Goldfarb, Habira Group, Jerusalem
Great News can't wait
The assumption that Oil Shale in Israel contains only solid kerogen is not complete. The experiments with Israeli oil shale run by Heavy Oil Department of The Alberta Research Council, Canada, provided results that some oil shale deposits contain liquid bitumen, which can be extracted at significantly lower temperature and cost, compared with decomposition of kerogen. I agree that Great News can't wait ! Alex Babchin, Ph.D, Alberta Research Council's Distinguished Scientist (retired). Resident of Tel Aviv.

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