Fracking to upend oil game
By ARTHUR HERMAN
Last Updated: 11:19 PM, January 27, 2013
Imagine a future meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, where the agenda is set not by Iran or Saudi Arabia, but by the United States. Oh, and the meeting takes place in Tel Aviv — because the other big power in OPEC is Israel.
That’s where the world is headed, thanks to the miraculous new technology known as fracking.
Hydraulic fracking uses water, sand and trace chemicals under high pressure to crack open deep deposits of shale oil and natural gas. Here in the United States it’s pushed domestic output of both to the point that, according to the International Energy Agency, we’ll be the world’s largest oil producer by 2020.
But fracking is also about to turn the Middle East upside down: Israel is poised to become the region’s new energy Mecca. Indeed, the Land of David just might be the energy-richest spot on earth.
How rich? By one estimate, Israel’s total oil-shale reserves come to 250 billion barrels. Mind you, Saudi Arabia’s total oil reserves are 260 billion.
A single shale oil field in the Elah Valley near Jerusalem, for example, is estimated to hold some 500 million barrels — enough to satisfy Israel’s energy needs for five years.
Israeli fracking production is still tiny, and costs are still higher than drilling in the Saudis’ Ghawar field or Kuwait. But as fracking technology continues to advance, and Israel opens up both its shale oil reserves and some 16 trillion cubic feet of offshore natural-gas deposits, the Jewish state could soon move far beyond energy independence and become a major oil and gas exporter.
In a world where oil and gas demand is expected to rise 35 percent in the next quarter century, the implications could be staggering.
It’s bound to have a decisive impact on Israel’s relations with oil-starved Western Europe. It already has impressed Russia, whose Vladimir Putin has brought his country’s energy giant Gazprom into partnership with Israel to open up those offshore reserves.
It could even change Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors.
Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are relatively oil-poor compared to Arabs in the Gulf. An Israel that can meet their energy needs could enjoy a whole new regional clout. (In fact, two top Muslim powers, Egypt and Turkey, have their own frackable oil and gas deposits — and may want Israel’s help to exploit them.)
Governments and political parties that used to plot Israel’s destruction could end up currying Tel Aviv’s favor the way the United States and Europe curried OPEC’s favor in the 1970s and ’80s.
That includes the Palestinians. Fracking could open the way for Israelis and Palestinians to find a mutual stake in a booming energy sector — a stake on which a lasting peace could be founded.
Of course, nothing comes easy. Lebanon (under the influence of the terror group Hezbollah) is disputing Israel’s access to those enormous offshore gas deposits. Meanwhile, left-wing groups like the Green Zionist Alliance and Jews Against Hydrofracking denounce fracking a threat to the environment and “not aligned with our Jewish values.”
But their efforts to shut down fracking in the oil-rich Elah Valley and elsewhere got no help from Tuesday’s election in Israel — where the new No. 2 party rose in part from its push for more good jobs, exactly what fracking will bring.
The fact is, the anti-frackers are running against the tide of technology, not to mention history. According to the Bible, the Elah Valley was where the Israelites camped when David slew Goliath. Now that valley is about to give David a new weapon against his enemies — one that could fuel hopes for a whole new direction for the Middle East.