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>Israel Faxx
>JN Sept. 3, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 161

Jerusalem Post Gets Competition

English-speaking Israelis and tourists have for the first time an alternative to The Jerusalem Post with the introduction of a locally-printed edition of the International Herald Tribune. In the past the European-printed Tribune was sold in Israel a day late. It is now being printed in English by the local Hebrew-language Ha'Aretz, and will contain four pages of Israeli news translated from Ha'Aretz.

Israel May Become Petroleum Superpower

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

People have searched for oil in all kinds of places in recent decades. One place where there has been a lot of searching, and almost no finding, is Israel. But now, an Israeli petroleum geologist believes he has found a potentially major oil reserve in Israel -- and his inspiration to look for the oil came from the Bible.

About 10 years ago, exiled Soviet Jew Tovia Luskin was studying the Bible while working on an oil project in Australia. The phrases that caught his eye came from the book of Deuteronomy (33:13,15) and quote Moses as saying a particular area of northern Israel, northeast of what is now Tel Aviv, contains something hidden beneath the earth. The passages refer to "ancient mountains and everlasting hills" providing "precious things."

Luskin found that one of the best-known Jewish biblical commentators, known as Rashi, suggested 800 years ago that the biblical passage could refer to hills formed before the rest of the surrounding landscape -- a concept which became part of modern geological theory centuries later.

Shortly after his biblical inspiration, Luskin came to Israel and researched the country's geology and bleak history of oil exploration. "We all know that oil exploration in Israel hasn't been very successful. Many, many wells were drilled, in total over 400, and no substantial discoveries were made. This makes the whole picture rather unpromising."

But Luskin's research soon led him to believe that previous Israeli oil exploration had been done in the wrong places, using the wrong concepts. He decided that Israel's oil potential had never been properly analyzed because the world's major oil companies did not want to antagonize the Arab countries where much of the world's known oil reserves are located.

Five years ago, Luskin formed a company, employing 10 petroleum engineers, all of whom had immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. His team concluded that northern Israel -- the area to which his biblical inspiration had pointed him -- is the southern part of the world's largest oil reservoir -- a reservoir previously believed to end in Syria.

"We are talking about a completely new basin, which is totally unexplored part of the most prolific petroleum system, or basin, in the world. About 70 per cent of all the world's oil reserves are here, and we are part of that."

A test-well that Luskin's company dug one year ago found only a small quantity of oil. But it chemically matches oil from Syria and other parts of the large reservoir, and is very different from the small amounts of oil others have found in southern Israel.

Now, Luskin and his partners are trying to raise $10 million to dig another well, three miles farther west, which Luskin believes will hit the heart of a huge oil accumulation. "The potential in this structure is a billion barrels recoverable, of 4 billion barrels in place. It's not small by any standard anywhere in the world."

An independent analysis by a US firm is more cautious, suggesting the potential for about 40 million barrels of recoverable reserves from Luskin's site, and only a one-in-eight chance of finding it. But the company president, Forrest Garb, who is also president of the US National Society of Petroleum Evaluation Engineers, says by oil prospecting standards, that's not bad, particularly in a country where there has been almost nothing but failure in oil exploration.

The petroleum analyst says it would be easy to dismiss the biblically inspired Israeli oil prospect as a fantasy, but it is backed up by solid scientific research. And Garb says if he were investing in oil exploration, rather than just evaluating projects, he would not put his food money into the Israeli project, but he might invest dollars earmarked for high risk ventures, with potentially high returns. That is just what Luskin and his partners want to hear.

If they can raise the money, Luskin and his team plan to start a well early next year which could reach as far as 3.6 miles into the earth. That process could, after six months of drilling, finally determine whether Luskin's biblical inspiration and 10 years of research find some of those "precious things" under "ancient mountains" that modern Israelis have been dreaming about for decades and Moses could never have imagined.

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