Israel is set to push forward a NIS 17 million ($4.4 million) plan to rehabilitate areas in the south of the country devastated by a massive oil spill earlier this month, considered the worst ecological disaster in the country’s history.
The plan would seek to reverse damage caused to the Arava desert and the Evrona Nature reserve, where some 5 millions of liters spilled from a damaged pipeline on December 4.
Deputy Environmental Protection Minister Ofir Akunis said Thursday that the plan will be presented to the cabinet for approval on Sunday.
He said the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC), which owns the damaged pipeline that caused the spill, will also be required to pay for the rehabilitation efforts, on top of the state’s contribution to clean up efforts.
According to the plan, advanced technology will be used to rehabilitate the polluted soil and treat the endangered wildlife impacted by the spill, including the construction of bridges for animals over the Route 90 highway. Environmental surveys will examine the ramifications of the spill on the Arava desert and Eilat Gulf.
The Environmental Protection Ministry will also purchase new equipment that will allow better initial response to emergencies.
The proposal also includes the establishment of a directorate that will monitor the progress of the rehabilitation efforts.
In addition, a specialized team will be established to investigate the environmental aspects of the EAPC’s land and sea activities, and will examine the possibility of opening the EAPC’s closed beach in Eilat for public use, which is said to contain rare sea life.
“This is an initial and immediate response to the harm caused to the entire public and to the fauna and flora in the Arava area. We will apply the Polluter Pays principle on the EAPC,” Akunis said in a statement.
The Polluter Pays act allows the incarceration of polluters for up to 3 years and the imposition of fines of up to NIS 2.4M.
Akunis did not make immediately clear exactly which measures will be taken against the EAPC.
The Israel Union for Environmental Defense, an environmental advocacy group, attacked Akunis’ proposal, claiming the government is yielding to the EAPC rather than holding them accountable.
“The plan is the result of the EAPC’s shadowy backstage handiwork, that succeeded in yielding the government to approve a reckless proposal in response to the largest ecological disaster Israel has ever faced,” Amit Bracha, the director of the organization, told Channel 2 News Thursday.
“Rather than demand the EAPC pay for the rehabilitation of the area, the money will come out of the public’s pocket,” Bracha said, adding that the lack of punitive measures will lead to a “similar or even more severe disaster.”
The EAPC said that the Trans-Israel pipeline was damaged during maintenance, sending millions of liters of oil gushing into the southern desert and severely damaging a nature reserve and other areas.
An EAPC spokesperson said the line, which facilitates the transport of crude oil between Europe and Asia, burst due to “a technical error.”
Data sent by the EAPC to the Environmental Protection Ministry shortly after the spill showed that some five million liters of crude oil burst from the pipe last week.
Over 80 people were treated for medical problems on both sides of the Israel-Jordan border following the spill, as crude oil flooded the Route 90 highway leading into Eilat. The vast majority of those initially affected were in Jordan.
The Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company was established in 1968 as a joint Israeli-Iranian venture to carry Asian oil from Eilat to Europe via a network of pipelines that reach from Eilat to Ashkelon and up the length of Israel to Haifa.
According to the EAPC website, the company operates 750 kilometers of pipelines in Israel.
As relations between Israel and Iran deteriorated the latter partner dropped out of arrangement and the company is now managed only by Israel.
According to Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the oil company’s pipelines have suffered a series of contaminating leaks over the past eight years.
In 2007 some 40 tons of oil leaked from a pipe near Tirat Carmel in the north of the country. In 2011 a tractor working on an EAPC project hit one of the company’s pipelines releasing 1.5 million of liters of jet fuel into the Nahal Zin river in the south of the country. Weeks later, another company tractor hit the same pipe barely half a kilometer away causing yet another leak.
In 2012 seepage from an EAPC pipe near the Givati Junction near Ashkelon required the removal of some 2,000 tons of contaminated soil.
Other incidents included a burst pipe near Poleg in 2008, and oil leaks into the sea in 1998,1999, and 2002 that eventually saw the company fined NIS 100,000.
Eight months ago there was another leak at a facility in Eilat.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported that so far no individuals have ever been brought to trial over the leaks.
Stuart Winer and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.