A New Holy Oil? Searching for Petroleum in Israel

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NORTHERN ISRAEL -- Israel is a part of the oil-rich Middle East, but it needs to import most of its oil and gasoline.

Yet one company believes there is plenty of oil in the Holy Land and they intend to find it. A potential discovery could change the dynamics of the Middle East and Israel's future.

John Brown is the founder of Zion Oil and Gas. He started the company on what he said is a God-given, 30-year-old mission to discover oil in Israel.

"I was an alcoholic and God saved me and delivered me from alcohol," Brown said. "That was in '81. Jim Spillman came to the church that God took me to in Clausen, Mich. And Jim Spillman - that was before the book the Great Treasure Hunt was written - he explained to the congregation that there was oil in Israel and it was in the Bible. That absolutely amazed me."

Since then Brown has pursued his vision to explore for oil -- based on the Scriptures and specifically on the promises to the tribes of Israel.

"We have Biblical evidence of what God said the blessings of the deep that lies beneath and there's also a scripture in Deuteronomy chapter 33, I think it's verse 24 where He talks about Asher dipping his foot in oil," Brown added.

While some said that scripture in Deuteronomy means olive oil, not petroleum, Brown believes it can be translated both ways. But it is not only the Bible that keeps Brown drilling, it is the science.

"We like to say it's the geology confirming the theology," he said.

Zion Oil and Gas's second well is one of the deepest ever drilled in Israel. From the top of the rig to the bottom of the well, it is 18,000 feet, about three and a half miles.

They are currently testing the results of the second well while they start on a third well. Richard Rinberg, Zion Oil and Gas CEO, said they are cautiously optimistic.

"We have seen certain things and we have announced to the world that we have seen certain results that lead us to believe and we've had it independently confirmed that there are seven zones within this well that may, and I underline the word 'may,' contain hydrocarbons and the word 'hydrocarbons' is a family name for oil and gas," Rinberg said.

"There's definitely some chance in finding oil and I have not mentioned yet the chance which is there in the offshore," said Yaakov Mimran, Israel's petroleum commissioner.

One discovery in January 2009 did add some optimism. For the first time in Israel's history, Nobel Drilling, an oil company, announced they had discovered a natural gas field some 60 to 90 miles offshore of Israel. They estimated it contained enough volume to supply Israel's natural gas needs for 10 to 20 years.

"We've been very, very careful not to claim any direct geological connection," Rinberg said. "In my mind what it does show is that the joke that's been around Israel since 1948 that Moses went the wrong way and turned left instead of turning right to Saudi Arabia, frankly may be wrong."

Zion Oil and Gas holds a license to drill on more than 300,000 acres within Israel. If they discover oil they hope to both help make Israel energy independent and bless the people of Israel with their charitable foundation. For now, the company continues to dig deep and look up.

"Only the Lord can grant the success," Rinberg said. "I believe He will, that's the faith belief. And when He does I'll take to my book of Psalms and I'll look at this particular comment. It says, 'From the depths I called You, O Lord.' And I'll say we called to you from 18,000 feet down underneath Israel and you answered us."

*Originally broadcast on May 19, 2010.

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