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Environment ministry investigating, cleaning up oil spill off Ashkelon coast

Several cubic meters of oil dispersed after leak discovered from Trans-Israel pipeline, 3 kilometers out to sea

Clean up efforts underway at the site of an oil spill some 3 kilometers off Ashkelon's coast, October 30, 2020. (Environmental Protection Ministry)
Clean up efforts underway at the site of an oil spill some 3 kilometers off Ashkelon's coast, October 30, 2020. (Environmental Protection Ministry)

The Environmental Protection Ministry said Friday that it was investigating an oil spill from the Trans-Israel pipeline some three kilometers from the Ashkelon coast, as clear-up efforts began.

“A local leak of light crude oil estimated to be around several cubic meters was discovered at the site, which occurred due to a malfunction in the emergency disconnection mechanism in the pipeline,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The Trans-Israel pipeline sealed the pipe and began treating the spill by spraying a substance designed to disperse and dissolve the oil in the sea,” the statement said.

TankerTrackers.com said the leak seemed to have happened after the hose decoupled from the pipeline following the delivery of 600,000 barrels of Russian crude oil via tanker.

Clean up efforts underway at the site of an oil spill some 3 kilometers off Ashkelon’s coast, October 30, 2020. (Environmental Protection Ministry)

The ministry said it had opened an investigation into the leak, adding that it will “take all measures to prevent similar cases.”

Additionally, as a precaution, the Ministry of Health has instructed the desalination facility in Ashkelon to disable the plant until clean-up efforts are completed.

The spill comes after state prosecutors announced on Tuesday that the state-owned Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC), which owns the Trans-Israel pipeline, along with five current and former senior executives at the company, could stand trial, pending a hearing, over its alleged role in an oil spill that devastated a nature reserve in southern Israel in 2014.

The individuals involved in the case are suspected of “committing large-scale environmental offenses” as well as bearing responsibility for the resulting pollution from the oil spill, considered the worst ecological disaster in Israel’s history.

Oil seeps between desert bushes in the Evrona Nature Reserve, December 7, 2014. (Environmental Protection Ministry spokesperson/Roi Talbi)

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, some 5 million liters of crude oil were spilled when a pipeline belonging to EAPC ruptured, causing significant environmental damage to the Arava desert and Evrona Nature Reserve.

According to the Tuesday statement released by the ministry, during work to relocate a pipe on December 3, 2014, there was an engineering fault that caused the pipe to rupture, precipitating the oil spill, which caused some NIS 100 million in damage.

A lizard covered in oil following a huge oil spill in the Arava area of southern Israel, on December 16, 2014. (Roy Talbi/Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry)

The statement said that it was suspected the accident was mainly due to faulty implementation of EAPC’s own regulations, including the failure to draw up a detailed plan for the work and a lack of coordination between the relevant departments in the company.

Last year, a settlement was reached in a class action suit determining that EAPC would pay NIS 100 million ($28 million) in damages over the spill.

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.

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