As the old joke has it, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt he took a wrong turn in the desert and settled them in the one place in the region that didn't have oil. But many thousands of years later, that joke itself may become history, as a team of visionary investors start drilling for oil this week near Haifa, in northern Israel. On Monday, Turkish workers from Aladdin Middle East Ltd. began drilling operations using a 2,000 horsepower rig brought in from Turkey on a deep exploratory well in an area leased for petroleum exploration from the Israeli government by a Dallas-based firm called Zion Oil and Gas. Established in April 2000 by John M. Brown, a Texas investor, Zion Oil and Gas operates on the surface like any other start-up venture. It is registered with the SEC, files regular reports, and sells stock to ordinary investors who hope to make money on Zion's operations. But Zion is no ordinary company, as Brown and other corporate executives are quick to point out. During a 1983 visit to Israel, Brown had a vision that the God of Israel had deposited a "hidden treasure" deep beneath Israel. "As a Christian Zionist and New Covenant believer, I received the calling to render assistance to the Jewish people and the Nation of Israel and to aid them in the restoration of the land by providing the oil and gas necessary to maintain their political and economic independence," Brown says. Since then, he has spent his life convincing others to join what he calls "the Joseph Project" — his effort to find oil deep beneath the surface of Israel. While Brown was inspired by Old Testament scripture, Zion Oil and Gas has done extensive geological surveys to identify specific areas of promise for their exploratory wells. They currently have two exploration leases, the Joseph and Asher-Menashe licenses, covering a total of 162,000 acres, and have applied for an additional license that would bring their total license area to 400,000, if granted. Chief Executive Officer Richard Rinberg told Newsmax in a recent interview at his home near Tel Aviv that drilling for oil in Israel ought to be a natural. "There's oil to the right of us, oil to the left of us, it's above us, it's below us," he said. "Why should this be the only place it isn't? If this were Texas, there would be thousands of wells drilled." The recent discovery by Noble Energy of vast natural gas deposits off the coast of Israel in the eastern Mediterranean has "changed the mind-set" toward exploring for oil in Israel, Rinberg told Newsmax. In January, Noble Energy said it had discovered an offshore field containing more than 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, with a market price estimated at around $26 billion. "Now when I tell people about oil and gas in Israel, it's much easier," Rinberg stated. All of Zion's oil leases are onshore. Rinberg and Zion's geological survey teams believe that the main reason no one has found significant oil deposits in Israel yet is because they haven't been drilling deep enough. Zion plans to drill an exploratory well down 15,400 feet, ultimately reaching 18,000 feet. Zion Oil is not the first company set up by Christians who have taken their cues from Scripture to determine where to drill for oil. Until now, their efforts have met with limited success. Texas oilman Harold "Hayseed" Stephens, a former pro football quarterback, launched a $30 million project in the 1990s to drill for oil in the Dead Sea. His company, Ness Energy International, just recently emerged from bankruptcy with by new investors. Zion Oil founder John Brown points to two passages in the Old Testament as guiding his own search for oil in the Holy Land. The passages — one from Genesis, the other from Deuteronomy — detail God's blessings to Asher and Joseph, sons of the patriarch Jacob. These passages have guided him to look for oil in the areas of Israel where the tribes of Joseph and Manasseh settled. Extensive geological surveys have added to the biblical inspiration and convinced the company's some 5,000 investors to put up more than $9 million for the new exploratory well. "There are decades of work here," Rinberg said. Zion investors should have a better idea whether their company will be part of Israel's future oil operations in a few weeks, once the first results of this latest exploratory well become known.
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