Photo Essay: Black Negev Gold?

The Tzuk Tamrur cliffs that rim the road down to the Dead Sea may hide a new energy source. The mineral-rich region brims with potential.

Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 13:09

Tzuk Tamrur
Tzuk Tamrur
Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian

The winding road that snakes down to the Dead Sea from Arad is once again in the energy crosshairs, this time focusing on a possible treasure of black gold beneath the surface of the sun-scorched cliffs of Tzuk Tamrur.

The consortium involved in the search for oil at the Tzuk Tamrur 4 site is the same group that discovered billions of dollars' worth in natural gas in the Mediterranean waters about 50 miles west of Haifa earlier this year, according to Delek Group CEO Yitzchak Tshuva. 

Tzuk Tamrur (Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian)

The hole to be drilled will reach a depth of 3,000 meters (6,500 feet) and will cost $4-5 million, according to Globes. It is estimated that the project will be carried out in approximately 1.25 acres out of the 150,000 total acres that comprise the area, which is rich in minerals.

Green copper deposits stain the rocks around Tzuk Tamrur. (Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian)

Along the same road is an exit to Rotem Industries, which is involved in research and development of renewable energy and medical imaging technology, production of crystals (sapphire) for the optics industry, and other ventures.  Also in the same area is a project exploring the benefits of solar energy. The Dead Sea Works chemical processing plant, located at the southernmost shore of the Dead Sea, produces chemical fertilizers in addition to potash, bromine and a host of other products.  

Sluiceway at Tzuk Tamrur. (Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian)

Tzuk Tamrur: Hiker's Paradise, Wildlife Desert Passage
Just north of Route 31 from Arad to the Dead Sea, Tzuk Tamrur forms an apex between the Judean Desert and Negev nature reserves. It is a popular spot where tourists and hikers can find bits of pottery shards, fossils and other items. Also located atop one of the numerous hills in the area is an ancient Roman toll booth guarding the Byzantine highway that snakes its way down from Arad to the Dead Sea.

View from Roman toll booth atop Tzuk Tamrur. (Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian)

Drilling a hole in that area, which forms a natural bridge for wildlife crossing between the two deserts, would block the narrow passageway and could cause severe environmental damage, according to an opinion written in 2008 by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority's science committee. It was for that reason the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) consented to the drilling only after the consortium agreed to invest half a million dollars to protect the area's rich nature reserves from damage during the exploration.

Children studying about Rotem (scrub pine) in Tzuk Tamrur. (Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian)

Dead Sea: Mineral-Rich, Healing Waters
The term 'Dead Sea' refers to water that has the densest concentration of salt and other minerals in the world -- slightly more than 33 percent, making it impossible for plants or animals to survive. The Dead Sea, which is at the lowest point on Earth offers year-round sunshine and dry air characterized by a high oxygen content due to the high barometric pressure, with low pollution levels and weakened ultraviolet radiation.

Salt crystals collect under the water of the Dead Sea (Israel news photo: courtesy of Younis Tours)

The mud of the shores of the Dead Sea is famous as a natural remedy for skin ailments, and sales of body creams made from Dead Sea elements have skyrocketed in recent years. Numerous Israeli and Jordanian business partners have joined hands to manufacture and market these products, which are highly prized by consumers around the world.

The Dead Sea shore at Ein Gedi, late afternoon (Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian)

Thousands of people who suffer from psoriasis and rheumatic conditions also flock to the area in the spring and autumn months in order to soak up the rays of the sun. These are deemed especially beneficial in relieving the conditions when absorbed together with the unique combination of minerals found in the waters and air found at the Dead Sea.

Medical tourism, which has become a growing source of income for the Jewish State, is especially active at the Dead Sea; a number of medical insurance plans in European nations have authorized trips to the area for their patients who suffer from debilitating arthritic and skin conditions.