Oily Christian Zionists

The latest issue of Mother Jones has an interesting article (online here) on attempts by American Christians to find oil in Israel. The author, Mariah Blake, concentrates mainly on Ness Energy, a shell company devised by Hayseed Stephens in 1997:

In late 2002 he told Prophecy Club listeners that “experts from Israel and around the world” had studied his planned drilling site and concluded that “18 to 50 billion barrels of oil” were hidden beneath the surface, reserves worth up to a trillion dollars. “You cannot find such good odds in Vegas, Atlantic City, or anywhere else in the world, even if you are nothing but a gambler.”

However, investors discovered that shares could not be re-sold; they watched them rise in value, then fall dramatically. Ness has acquired $10 million, despite not actually digging anywhere. Blake notes that several Ness insiders also have links with a company called Safescript Pharmacies, which had its license revoked by the SEC allegedly “for artificially inflating its stock value through a fraudulent accounting scheme”:  the head of Safescript was Stanley Swanson, who was also founding CEO of Ness, while a Safescript consultant was Ivan Webb. Webb was Ness’s financial officer and was also involved with a firm called Broadband Wireless that had allegedly cheated investors . Ness, according to the article, purchased $1 million dollars of shares from Safescript which became worthless soon after.

Blake also travelled to Jerusalem to look through Israel’s oil register; she says that she discovered that Stephens controlled a second private company, named Hesed, which would receive any profits from drilling undertaken by Ness – leaving Ness investors with nothing. In 2003, Hesed and another firm owned by Stephens were sold to Ness, according to Blake at inflated prices. Stephens died a month later.

Ness, though, is still going, and for a month a businessman named Anthony Allenby was appointed CEO – leading to a raise in stock prices and payouts to executives, but no actual oil. Blake describes Allenby as “British”; he is actually South African, although based in the UK. In the last few months (this isn’t in Blake’s piece) Allenby has established Allenby-Ness Oil, much to the displeasure of Stephens’ son, who has fired off transatlantic legal threats on behalf of Ness Energy to Allenby in Uckfield in East Sussex, where he is associated with an obscure “Churchill and Associates Limited”.

Blake’s article also draws attention to some other figures who have promised oil bonanzas for Christians but then failed to deliver: Andy Sorelle, who was puffed by Pat Robertson on the 700 Club in the 1980s; Bernard Coffindaffer, “who searched for oil using scriptural clues and a vial of his own blood”; and Covenant Energy, which ended in fraud convictions.

There is also a profile of Zion Oil, whose banner appears often at the head of the WorldNetDaily homepage. I’ve been following Zion Oil ever since Hal Lindsey encouraged his readers on WND to buy shares, without disclosing that his cousin Ralph DeVore was a member of the board or that he himself had received a gift of shares worth $337,500 (DeVore’s shares are worth $4.9 million; the significance of DeVore was first noticed by me; Blake’s article avoids going into DeVore’s hilarious spat Zion CEO John Brown, which I blogged here). Blake observes that

Unlike Ness, Zion is a legitimate wildcatting venture, with respected geologist on its board of directors.

However,

Zion was never close to striking oil; at its very first stockholders’ meeting in June, the firm announced plans to temporarily abandon its only well due to technical problems.

Full paper reference:

Mariah Blake, ‘Let there be light crude’, Mother Jones January-February 2007: 54-57, 81, 86.

(Hat tip to a reader for bringing this to my attention)