The Environmental Protection Ministry said Sunday damages from a 2014 oil spill in southern Israel, considered to be the worst ecological disaster in the country’s history, totaled NIS 281 million ($75 million).
According to the ministry, some 5 million liters of crude oil were spilled in December 2014 when a pipeline belonging to state-owned Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) ruptured, causing significant environmental damage to the Arava desert and Evrona Nature Reserve.
The ministry’s announcement on the cost of the damages was included in a legal opinion it had ordered as part of mediation proceedings on the oil spill.
“This opinion is a direct continuation of the ministry’s policies, according to which harming nature has a price, and therefore it must be ensured that companies that fail to protect the environment will fully bear the damages caused to the environment and the public,” the ministry said in a statement.
The total damages included NIS 65 million ($17 million) in rehabilitation costs and NIS 216 million ($58 million) in compensation for the environmental damages, according to the ministry, the former of which was already paid by EAPC as part of clean-up efforts.
The ministry said a criminal investigation has also been underway, but did not indicate who is suspected.
“The Environmental Protection Ministry conducted many investigative actions, gathered an extensive evidentiary basis and additional investigative activities are being carried out in coordination with the State Prosecutor’s Office,” it said.
The EAPC said at the time 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.
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 currently operates 750 kilometers (466 miles) of pipeline in Israel.
As relations between Israel and Iran deteriorated following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran dropped out of the arrangement and the company is now managed only by Israel.