By Cnaan Liphshiz

English-speaking immigrants living in the Beit Shemesh area who are fighting to prevent a regional oil drilling project this week petitioned the High Court of Justice to issue a restraining order for the controversial venture, claiming it is being carried out without proper review.

The petition was filed by Adam Teva V’Din, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, at the request of and in coordination with the Committee to Save Adullam – a group of some 15 families who hail from English-speaking countries, trying to slow down the project and expose it to greater scrutiny.

The group is concerned about the oil development project in the Adullam region, located between Beit Shemesh and Beit Guvrin, which uses a little-tested shale oil extraction technique. The process uses sustained heating of the ground at a depth of 1,500 meters to convert Kerogen – an organic chemical compound mix found in some rocks – into crude oil.

The petition is primarily against the National Infrastructure Ministry, which okayed IEI’s bid for the pilot project. A spokesperson for the ministry declined to comment on the matter, explaining it was “now a legal issue being reviewed in court.”

The ministry has one month to prepare its response, at the end of which the court will convene to review the petition. The petitioners also argue that the company responsible for the oil extraction, IEI, has failed to obtain necessary permits from the Environment Ministry and from the Interior Ministry’s National Planning Administration, as required by Israeli law.

“The Environment Ministry gave IEI a permit to start drilling two years ago without ever receiving a detailed plan of action from them,” said Naftali Smulowitz, a Canadian-born resident of Moshav Aderet and lawyer. He worked with the non-profit Adam Teva V’Din in filing the petition.

A spokesperson for IEI said the company received its permit to conduct a pilot project from the government based on “a detailed environmental survey” of the region, and that the company “is operating in full transparency in accordance with each and every regulation.”

IEI is operating one pilot project for oil shale extraction in Elah Valley in the Adullam region, with several other extraction points planned before the program potentially graduates from the pilot stage to the production stage in five to six years. According to IEI’s CEO, Relik Shafir, the territory earmarked for use in the production phase will constitute less than one square kilometer.

A spokesperson for the National Infrastructure Ministry commented, “IEI was given a permit to run a pilot program, but this permit states that any further works would require additional approvals. Environmental aspects of the project are being meticulously examined by the proper authorities at every stage.”

The members of the Save Adullam group – led by Smulowitz and by Manchester-born Gillian Kay, Joshua Fox from the U.S. and Rachel Jacobson, also from the U.S. – say they are concerned the shale oil extraction process would increase air, ground and water pollution, have a negative impact on the fledgling local tourism and wine industry and destroy heritage sites and archeological finds buried in the ground. The company’s chief geologist, Yuval Bartov, said the company was still in the testing phase and was looking into environmental concerns.