By Sharon Udasin
10 January 2017 01:11

‘Atid’ to launch a home-based service to compete with the only other operator in the country.

Rather than relying on foreign firms to extract precious resources from the region’s underground, an Israeli company called Atid – “future” in Hebrew – will soon be providing drilling services for water, gas and oil projects in the area.

“The name Atid was chosen for a reason, because we really do believe that there is a significant opportunity and future not only for an advanced drilling company in Israel, but really in the entire region,” Atid CEO Geoffrey Rochwarger told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview on Monday.

While many projects for onshore water, gas and oil exploration and production exist throughout Israel, there is currently only one Israeli operator – Lapidoth Israel Oil Prospectors Corp. Ltd. – that provides the physical drilling services for the companies overseeing these projects. By employing some of the most modern and cost efficient equipment available in the sector, the owners of Atid aim to create a home-based service that “is not only a necessity in Israel but in the entire region,” according to Rochwarger.

The idea of Atid arose out of a need for water in the Golan Heights and a lucky discovery made by the firm’s sister company, Afek Oil and Gas, where Rochwarger also serves as CEO.

The two Israeli ventures, Atid and Afek, are daughter companies of the New Jersey-based Genie Energy, founded by American-Jewish businessman Howard Jonas.

Since February 2015, Afek has been exploring for conventional oil in a 39,500-hectare zone south of Katzrin on the Golan Heights. To date, the company has completed drilling at five out of 10 permissible sites.

Despite opposition from environmental groups, the firm received a two-year extension on its exploration permit last winter.

At the Ness-12 exploration well, the Afek team – which was employing the services of international firm Viking Drilling – uncovered a freshwater resource in November 2015. After the local water corporation in the region, Mei Golan, launched a tender process for drilling a well there, Afek won the bid at the end of August.

By subleasing drilling equipment, Afek completed work on the water well – ultimately called Mei Debbie, for Jonas’s wife – in two weeks at the end of September. Nearly simultaneously, Atid was incorporated.

By December 31, Atid secured the purchase of all the subleased drilling equipment.

“For us, as well as for Mei Golan, it highlighted that there was a real opportunity for someone in Israel that had much more modern equipment than really existed before in the country to be able to come in and drill much more efficiently and at a much cheaper cost base,” Rochwarger said.

The equipment minimizes the use of outside water for the drilling process and instead employs air and nitrogen through a mechanism called under-balanced drilling, he said.

Atid is backed by Rainmaker, a consortium of Canadian investors who have over 100 combined years of drilling experience, according to Rochwarger. The consortium is responsible for maintaining, reviewing and operating Atid’s drilling equipment.

“Once we completed the [Mei Debbie] well, we closed the deal,” he said. “That’s when Atid was formed.”

The Golan Heights in particular has a shortage of water, operators and equipment, Rochwarger explained. Atid is in discussions with the Water Authority to offer a solution.

“There are a limited amount of resources to be able to explore and fulfill the drilling requirements that the country has,” he said.

Atid’s next project, however, will likely be a sixth oil exploration well for its sister company, Afek. From the data acquired at the five wells drilled thus far, Afek has determined that the southeast region of its license zone contains several billion barrels of a very heavy oil, which would be both difficult and expensive to extract.

To determine how to proceed, Afek hired the American geophysical firm Miller and Lents, Ltd. to analyze their results, Rochwarger said.

Combining the subsurface data acquired by Afek with seismic information uncovered in the 1980s, Miller and Lents determined that an area northwest of the Sheikh Ali Fault, still within Afek’s license zone, drops in depth by 700 meters, which could indicate the presence of light oil there.

Afek’s sixth well, Ness-10, will be located in that northwest area, at a site that formerly housed army tanks.

The drilling, which is slated to begin in March, will be conducted by Atid, Rochwarger said.

Despite the fact that Atid’s next project will likely be the Afek oil exploration well, he stressed the importance of continuing to pursue water drilling projects both in Israel and in neighboring countries.

“In the Golan, in parallel to us drilling and exploring for oil, we have seen there’s an immediate need for water,” he said. “If we can drill a well in two weeks and that potentially unlocks a new source of water, for us, it’s a win-win.”

Uncovering these resources is crucial, but so is the creation of jobs in the Golan Heights community in particular, Rochwarger added.

“It is our intention for this to be an Israeli drilling company,” he said. “Our goal is to have it run, maintained and operated by Israeli citizens who we are going to train. Yes, it’s owned by an American company, but for all intents and purposes we are viewing this as an Israeli company.”