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The Shfela (השפלה), also known as Shfelat Yehuda (Judean foothills), is an area in central Israel stretching over 10–15 km between the Judean Mountains in the east and the coastal plain in the west.

Shfela was one of the regions allotted to the biblical Tribe of Judah, home to the mighty Samson, battleground where David slew giant Goliath, and Bar Kochba fought his fruitless revolt against the Romans two thousand years ago.

Today, Shfelat Yehuda, apart from its tourist attraction value is quickly becoming an extremely important economic asset. According to Israel Energy Initiatives (IEI) Shfela basin contains between 150 and 250 billion barrels of recoverable Shale Oil. Compare that to the Saudi Arabian oil reserves estimated at 267 billion barrels to understand the magnitude. Couple this with about 1 trillion cubic meters of gas in the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields to see that this indeed could be a game changer in the energy geo-politics, especially now, when the EU is desperately trying to free themselves from the Russian gas and Muslim oil (did the bureaucrats in Brussels really think it through when they threw money into the fires of the Ukrainian and Arab springs?).

A few weeks ago I drove my son to an army base near Hevron. As I passed the ugly land ulcer they call "Palestinian territories", I suddenly found myself in the middle of an idyllic landscape, with rolling green hills all around me and nicely shaped clouds above. I stopped and snapped a few pictures from the side of the road, finally taking another shot with my phone, to get its exact coordinates (N31.608267,E34.955997, 4 km off Ben Guvrin on road 35). Would the shale oil extraction destroy these nice pine forests, planted by the Jewish National Fund?

IEI with its parent company Genie Energy (having Dick Cheney, Ruppert Murdoch and Jacob Rothschild among its shareholders), holding the rights for the oil extraction in the Shfela region, is planning on using in-situ conversion process (ICP), invented by Dr. Harold Vinegar, the former Chief Scientist of Royal Dutch Shell. ICP works by inserting 300°C hot pipes into a pattern drilled in the ground, accelerating naturally occurring "maturation" of kerogen into lighter hydrocarbons fractions, cutting the required time from a million years into a few months. The cost of extraction is estimated to be modest $30-40 per barrel, which is a lot compared to the Saudi Arabia costs of $5-10, but well below the oil sands extraction in Canada at $60-80 and the crude oil market price of $108.

IEI is planning to deliver 50K barrels per day by the end of this decade, growing to 250K barrels/day in 2020, "respectful of all environmental regulations", according to Dr. Scott Nguyen, IEI's VP Technology. We will see if those plans become a reality in the near future.

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