The Authority approved an appeal made by two drilling companies, Ginko and Delek Energy Systems, granting them six months for oil drilling at the site. However, officials stipulated several restrictions in order to counter possible environmental damage.
They also determined that should oil be discovered at the site, it will be pumped diagonally from outside of the reserve in order to minimize the damage done to the plants and wildlife.
The Parks Authority stressed that its assembly is made up of representatives from different ministries and government offices, so the decision does not rest solely on ecological concerns.
The decision contrasted the opinions of various ecologists and environmentalists employed by the Authority, who claimed that the region is extremely sensitive and that oil drilling, with all it entails – preparing the ground, setting up fuel pumps and employee housing, noise, light, and pollution – would leave the environment destitute.
"The drilling and extraction of oil could harm whole populations of rare species," the specialists wrote in their objecting statement. "We believe that the foreseen production does not justify the permit to severely and permanently harm plants and wildlife, as well as the landscape and tourists in an official nature reserve."
The drilling companies, on the other hand, believe that there is plenty of oil to be found at the premises, and with rising global prices, declared the enterprise extremely profitable. They also claimed the oil was strategically important to the State of Israel, which is currently dependant on other countries for its oil supply.
They also claimed the environmental damage would be miniscule. "I know the area well and it's just another place in the desert," said the companies' spokesman Avraham Poraz, Israel's former interior minister.
Poraz told Ynet that the site has a potential of up to 6.5 million barrels, worth about $700 million. "Israel is not rich enough to allow itself to forgo such potential," he said.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) criticized the decision and said it was a case of pandering to entrepreneurs.
"The SPNI laments the fact that members of the Parks Authority assembly who voted in favor of the plan caved ub to pressure exerted by the entrepreneurs, did not accept the opinion of the professional committee, and approved an appeal that will cause needless harm to a nature reserve," the statement said.