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Extracting oil shale: oil is here to stay

Oil is here to stay

Extracting oil shale can provide Israel energy security, if done in environmentally friendly manner, expert says.

By: Sharon Udasin in The Jerusalem Post
July 26, 2012

While people must dramatically change their behaviors to reduce their negative impact on the environment, oil is a critical energy source that will be here to stay for the foreseeable future, according to a prominent Canadian environmentalist.

“Unless there is some major breakthrough that we can’t envision yet, we will be dependent on oil for most of our transportation for decades to come,” said Dr. Patrick Moore, chairman and chief scientist of the Vancouver- based Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.

The management and procurement of such oil must, however, be carried out in an environmentally responsible manner, he told The Jerusalem Post during a meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Moore, his president and CEO Tom Tevlin, and senior vice president of policy and planning Trevor Figueiredo were in Israel this week, visiting with officials at Israel Energy Initiatives (IEI), the firm aiming to extract oil shale from the country’s Shfela basin near Beit Shemesh.

A veteran environmentalist, Moore grew up in the wilderness of British Columbia, attending a one-room school in his village until he went on to high school and then college at the University of British Columbia. There, he said, he discovered ecology as well as the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

“Like many people my age at that time, I was radicalized,” he said. He soon joined a small group opposing Alaskan hydrogen bomb testing, and in the basement of a Unitarian church, they decided to launch a protest fishing boat to travel to Alaska.

“We named it the Greenpeace,” Moore said.

After his arrest along with the 12 other protesters on the boat, Moore finished up his PhD and spent the next 15 years committed to working at Greenpeace, where he eventually became an international director, until his departure from the organization in 1986. He left Greenpeace due to what he called “zero tolerance” policies and established Greenspirit a few years later.

At Greenspirit, he and his colleagues said they have become devoted to a concept of sustainability according to an “operational definition” – which focuses on continuing to procure the food, energy and materials needed for survival today while reducing the environmental footprint by changing people’s behaviors.

“We believe that we can radically reduce our negative impact on the environment by changing the way we do things and changing the technologies,” he said, giving the simple example of turning off the lights in a room or swapping a halogen bulb for fluorescent.

While environmentally friendly behaviors are crucial, so is providing for the human population and adhering to a balance of “economical, environmental and social priorities,” according to Moore.

“I believe that too much of environmentalism is isolated from the need to take these things into consideration,” he said. “At the extreme end, it’s almost as if nature would be better off without people altogether.”

In the past few days, he and his colleagues have visited IEI’s proposed oil shale pilot extraction site, have reviewed all of the relevant maps and data, have visited the company’s laboratories at Ben-Gurion University and have met all the key people involved with the project, he said.

In the Shfela basin, the company has estimated reside 40 barrels of usable oil in the shale rock layer buried about 300 meters under the Earth’s surface. Stressing that an impermeable layer separates the shale and the area’s aquifer, and that the drilling will entail in-situ, underground oil-heating through horizontal pipes, IEI has promised that its drilling will be as environmentally friendly as possible. Having completed exploratory trials, the company is eager to begin its pilot phase, but environmental activism groups such as Greenpeace have adamantly opposed the project’s continuation – citing risks to the aquifer and to open space.

“In general it would be a good idea for Israel to have its own oil supply,” Moore said. “I understand that we’re going to need oil for some time.”

Oil will remain absolutely critical to both Israel and the world, particularly in terms of transportation needs for the coming decades, while alternative sources such as hydroelectric, nuclear and geothermal may be ideal for electricity systems, he explained.

“An in-country industry producing oil would be a huge economic boom to Israel,” Moore said, stressing that an energysecure Israel would more likely lead to peace in general.

“There’s an economic component, and there’s the environmental component of the relatively small footprint of this form of extraction,” he explained.

Although he stressed that Greenspirit had not yet become a direct “proponent” of IEI’s oil shale program, he said the company abided by the environmental, social and economic principles that “fall into our definition of sustainable.”

“In general we support this approach because it has these attributes,” he said.

Tevlin added that “there’s work to be done – we have to find out how the process goes.”

While Greenspirit has experience working in a wide range of industries in agriculture, energy and mining across the world, the organization’s time spent handling oil sands in Canada are perhaps most applicable to the Israel oil shale project. In Canada, some of the oil sands are mined from the surface – and then after oil extraction, return to the ground clean – while others require a similar in-situ drilling process, Moore explained.

“We support the Canadian oil sands because every square inch of land by that law must be reclaimed,” he said. “We’ve seen it with our own eyes.”

Although the area being “actively disturbed” remains this way for some years, it truly does undergo a proper rehabilitation process afterward, he added.

For the leaders at IEI, bringing in Moore and his team provides the company with critical strategies as to how to promote sustainable development, a field in which Israel is still very new, IEI CEO Relik Shafir explained.

“We think that utilizing their experience and knowhow will be beneficial to our approach,” Shafir said.

Moshe (Musa) Gabay, vice president for business development and legal affairs at IEI, was directly responsible for finding Moore and said he and his colleagues knew “we need to seek help outside of Israel,” in order to implement a comprehensive sustainable development strategy.

“To me, it fit perfectly,” Gabay said. “[Canada] is a perfect example of a country that is facing successfully the challenges of developing a resource.”

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