Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Wednesday, April 27, 2005
The U.S.-based Zion Oil Gas Corporation, led by an Evangelical Christian, says it wants to help the Jewish state become energy independent.
This is not the first time that Evangelical Christians have used biblical prophecy to search for oil in Israel. But this time, they could be onto something: Zion Oil Gas believes it may be on the verge of a very large find.
Zion's 165-foot oil rig is located in an inland field between the central and northern Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Israeli and Texas State flags flutter at the entrance to the fenced compound, where digging goes on 24-hours a day -- except on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
A sign at the site says, "The Joseph Project is an oil and gas exploration project based on scripture and geological evidence, as well as the Zion Oil Gas Corporation's dedication to the discovery of oil in Israel."
Although Israel is part of the oil-rich Middle East, very little oil has been discovered here. (Natural gas fields were discovered offshore in 1999.) Israel imports most of its oil from the former Soviet Union and the remainder from West Africa, Egypt and Mexico.
But Zion Oil Gas founder John Brown believes biblical prophecies will point the way to Israel's hidden oil wealth.
Brown first visited Israel 20 years ago. Inspired by a few key Bible passages, Brown established his company more than a decade later.
"He firmly believes [we'll] find oil here for the benefit of Israel and restoration of the land," Zion Oil's Executive Vice President Glen Perry told Cybercast News Service. (Evangelical Christians are strong supporters of Israel because they believe it will play a key role in events leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.)
Brown has worked for years with the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure, and in May 2000, he began drilling in an area encompassing 95,800 acres. "It's going very well," said an enthusiastic Perry.
Perry, a petroleum engineer from Texas, has worked in the oil and gas field for 25 years. He said he met Brown, who had no background in the oil industry, five years ago and admits he had doubts at first about the Israeli project.
"When John called me and told me about the vision and where he wanted to drill...I was initially skeptical," said Perry. None of the oil and gas men liked that particular spot, he said, but Perry told Brown that he would evaluate the geophysical and engineering aspects.
Perry said he and other experts discovered an underground anomaly, called a reefal structure, indicating possible oil reserves.
"There could be a tremendous amount, according to published articles -- almost 500 million barrels," Perry said. That works out to about $2.5 billion worth of oil.
Zion Oil Gas has teamed up with Israeli experts such as Dr. Eliezer Kashai, a geologist who now serves as vice president of Israeli exploration for the private company.
"There are several elements, which support the concept [of finding oil here]," Kashai said in a video presentation on the company's website.
"First the appearance of reefal phenomena on the seismic sections and also the discovery of oil reefs in nearby wells -- all this supports our conclusions," Kashai said.
Last month, Zion Oil Gas began drilling its first well, called Ma'anit #1, at a site where an Israeli company stopped drilling ten years ago, when it ran out of money.
Zion has cleaned out the old well and drilled much deeper than the original 7,500 feet. It plans to drill to a depth of 15,000 feet, at a cost of about $3 million.
Dr. Yaakov Nimran, Israel's petroleum commissioner, said he welcomes anyone who wants to invest in Israel.
"The geographical setting is fairly promising," Nimran said of Zion's drilling site. But it's hard to say what kind or how much oil might be produced, he added. "[Nevertheless], altogether it's quite exciting."
Israel has one well off the coast of the Israeli city of Ashkelon in the Mediterranean Sea, which has been producing oil since 1956, he said. Its output is very low -- only about 80-100 barrels a day, Nimran said in a telephone interview.
About 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of the Zion field, an Israeli company recently discovered oil -- but there are problems with extracting it.
Bible and science
This is not the first time Christians have used the Bible as a guide to oil drilling in Israel, Nimran said -- and it's probably not the last time, either.
But Zion Oil Gas says new technology has produced more scientific data to go along with biblical prophecies.
"The Bible talks about where it's found and science backs it up," said Stacey Cude, an American who works in Israel as Zion's drilling manager.
Zion Oil and Gas hopes to complete its drilling within a couple of months, at which point it will analyze the data to see if its efforts have been fruitful, Cude said.
By law, 12-and-a-half percent of any profits would go to the Israeli government; and the company has pledged six percent of its profits to various charities, both in Israel and abroad, said Perry.
And should they strike oil, the company hopes to send local Jewish and Arab Israelis for education and training so they'll be able to work in Zion's Israeli field.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.