On July 10, 2012, the English-language website of the BBC published an article by journalist Alex Rowell, who recently visited the West Bank.
The article mentioned that Givot Olam Oil Ltd, an Israeli company, is producing oil from the Meged field located in Israeli territories “on the edge of the West Bank”, “raising concern that it might also draw from untapped Palestinian reserves”.
Rowell says that the oil field is located in rocky fields about 10 minutes by foot from the West Bank village of Rantis. On a high hill, about a hundred meters away, there is a wired fence along the Green Line, which separates the West Bank and Israel.
The journalist goes on to explain in detail his visit to onshore oil installations, quoting often a student from the University of Birzeit who had accompanied him on his visit, and who led him to the gas flare (the onshore installations and the flare can be seen on the Israeli company’s website), no further than 500 meters from them. In truth, the existence of this flare means that oil production is ongoing, with associated gas being burnt off.
Rowell met with Palestinian journalist Hafez Barghouti, editor in chief of the newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadeedah in Ramallah, who was the first to write about this oil field. Barghouti said, “I happened to be driving past when all of a sudden I saw this huge flare on the Green Line”. “I was sure it must be gas. So I called the mayor of Rantis and he said, 'Yes, the Israelis are drilling oil and gas”, he added.
According to Rowell, oil extraction may contravene the Oslo Accords, which call for "co-operation in the field of energy, including an energy development program, which will provide for the exploitation of oil and gas and encourage further joint exploration of other energy resources".
Givot Olam refused to comment, while an Israeli government official said the journalist’s claims were “yet another attempt to politicize everything”. He added, “We are engaging in exploratory digging within Israel. While we are hopeful, there is at present no conclusive indication as to whether commercially viable quantities will be found, and precisely where”.
However, if we leave these official statements aside, and examine the Israeli company’s website, then we will find much more detailed information. According to a report released by Givot Olam itself, drilling had indeed begun back in in the nineties. After the field was discovered, the Israeli government granted Givot Olam a permit in 2004 to produce oil from the Meged field.
Indeed, the company began production of crude oil in 2011 from the Meged-5 field, which is located, according to the company’s maps available on the internet, exactly along the border with the West Bank; Meged-5 is the first well in the field with commercially viable quantities.
The company has so far drilled 5 wells, including the Meged-5 horizontal well, which means that it can produce oil from locations far from the well itself. Since Meged-4 is also located along the border of the West Bank, it is very possible that it will produce oil from untapped reservoirs in the West Bank.
Givot Olam’s plans indicate the long-term production from the field began last June, from Meged-5. The information available also indicates that the expected output is 785 thousand barrels per day of crude oil. Preliminary estimates show that the reserves contained in the field are about 90.1 million barrels of crude oil, while natural gas reserves were estimated to stand at about 182.1 billion cubic feet.
In truth, these figures are relatively modest, but since this is the first field to be discovered in the region, it is likely that promising reserves will be found later, following additional exploration.
It is known that Israel has a long history of usurping Arab water resources, especially in Palestine, with incidents of this dating as far back as the fifties. Israel also precluded the development of the Gaza Marine field in Palestinian territorial waters throughout the past decade, after placing very tough conditions (a large discount on natural gas, building the gas pipeline to pass through Ashkelon first, and providing the Israeli market with its needs of natural gas before delivering it to the power plant in Gaza).
One of the weaknesses of the Arab side in this regard is not only due to the disparity in the balance of power between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but also to the failure to exploit Arab potentials and push for exploration in Palestinian waters and territories.
Here, Palestinian engineering and development companies with high expertise, both in Palestine and abroad, can cooperate with Palestinian investment funds in Palestine and Arab companies involved in oil exploration and drilling, especially in Egypt or Jordan – while securing the necessary funding from specialized Arab investment institutions.
The main reason behind this idea is that we need to move from complaining to identifying what is available in terms of natural resources in Palestinian lands and waters, after positive signs have emerged in the region, and before it is too late. It is rather likely that Israel will try to obstruct any such attempts, as it has done with production from the Gaza Marine field – despite the fact that the developer was British Gas, in a partnership with the Palestinian Investment Fund and the Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), and despite mediation by then-UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in favor of the project.
In spite of this, the competent Palestinian institutions, in collaboration with relevant Arab companies, must take the initiative to explore and drill before it is too late, with a view to gather accurate information on the natural resources present in these regions. This is particularly urgent, because the Israeli side has beaten us to surveys, drilling and concluding agreement with local and international oil companies to start production, while the concerned countries in the region are preoccupied with never-ending conflicts and disputes, and have yet to begin the necessary steps to lay the foundations for an oil industry.