Friday, March 05, 2010

Talking of Moses & Geology in the Same Sentence?

Could a study of religion and geology come together and yield one of the most precious natural resources? Yes, say the founders of two rather unique firms prospecting for the crude stuff in Israel. They are Zion Oil – a Dallas, Texas-based, NASDAQ (Global market) listed company and Givot Olam Oil Ltd which is listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE).

The founders of both firms believe visions in science and religious epiphanies can come together. In case of Givot Olam, (meaning “everlasting hills” in Hebrew), its founder Tovia Luskin has been prospecting for oil in Israel since 1994 with a degree of success. Corporate records suggest he found inspiration in Chapter 33 of the Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses, after having guided the tribes of Israel to the Promised Land, leaves each tribe with a blessing.

Of these, Ephraim and Manasseh, two tribes thought to have descended from Joseph, were blessed by Moses with the “precious fruits of the deep lying beneath the ancient mountains and of the everlasting hills.” Givot Olam was founded on the premise that the words pointed to an oil trap in Palmyra rift region in Israel.

The area is thought to be in the biblical territories of Ephraim and Manasseh, or rather sandwiched in the patch between Tel Aviv and Haifa. In a land far, far away, known by some as the USA, a born again Catholic from Texas - John Brown had a similar vision to Luskin's, pointing to nearly the same crude prospection zone.

Both men and the companies they subsequently founded spent years raising capital and literally digging up geological evidence to back their respective religious epiphanies. Seismic studies confirm some of their conjecture and crude stuff has indeed been found; albeit not (yet) in meaningful quantities. It is not that Israel has no oil and gas wells – they do exist but are very few and far between.

Further prospection has been hampered by geopolitics as major oil corporations with exposure elsewhere in the Middle East, have not touched Israel perhaps for fear of antagonising their Arab partners. Zion Oil and Givot Olam have no such concerns. If both companies strike oil in meaningful quantities, the discoveries could make Israel partly self-reliant.

According to the country’s Ministry of National Infrastructures, Israel currently imports 90% of its oil from Russia and FSU nations. The country consumes about 80 million barrels of oil annually or 270,100 barrels per day according to latest industry estimates. Only time will tell if Moses’ blessing came in the form of black gold. Regardless of the ultimate results, the endeavours of team(s) Brown and Luskin cannot be faulted.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo Courtesy © Zion Oil, Dallas, USA

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