Haifa’s Oil Refineries tops worst environmental offenders list
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Haifa’s Oil Refineries tops worst environmental offenders list

Environment Protection Ministry says its annual review seeks to increase transparency for investors and the general public

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

View of chimneys from a refinery in Haifa Bay (Photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)
View of chimneys from a refinery in Haifa Bay (Photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)

The Environment Protection Ministry on Tuesday published its fifth annual offenders report, listing companies with the worst impact on their surroundings or who fail to comply with regulations, and marked a Haifa oil complex as the top offender.

The 2016 Environmental Impact Index reviewed over 100 factories and 1,000 gas stations on their compliance with environmental regulations and their impact on the environment. It included the ministry’s “Red List” — the top ten companies who accrued the most points for bad behavior during inspections carried out in 2015. Points are awarded based on three factors: a company’s impact on the environment, lack of compliance with environment laws and regulations, and environmental management and reporting.

At the top of the red list was Oil Refineries Ltd with 487 points, followed by Paz Ashdod Oil Refinery (366), Gadiv Petrochemical Industries (362), Carmel Olefins (335), Rotem Amfert Negev (311), Hadera Papers (309), Adama Agricultural Solutions (299), Dead Sea Works (265), the Israel Electric Corp’s Rutenberg power station (261) and Dead Sea Magnesium (256).

“The index is the first of its kind to offer information from a governmental source on environmental risk levels of companies, and provides investors in public companies with a simple and direct indication of their level of risk,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Environment Protection Ministry's 'Red List' of top ten environment offenders for 2016. (Environment Protection Ministry)
The Environment Protection Ministry’s ‘Red List’ of top ten environment offenders for 2016. (Environment Protection Ministry)

Worst offender ORL not only topped the list, but also showed a 27 percent increase in its score over the previous year “due to violations in supervision and enforcement,” the report said.

During 2015 the ministry issued 29 warnings to ORL for exceeding its permitted emissions in nitrogen oxides, organic carbon, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter in the period 2012-2015.

The ministry noted that Gadiv Petrochemical Industries and Carmel Olefins, in third and fourth place respectively, are both ORL companies.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin said in a statement the index provides Israeli citizens with a view of which companies pose the biggest threats.

“We are enabling every citizen in Israel and every investor to get a full picture of the companies that are environmentally risky in Israel, with reliable and accessible information,” Elkin said. “The Ministry of Environmental Protection is working to increase environmental transparency on several levels, and calls on investors to assess a company’s risks using this environmental information, in order to help push public companies to reduce their negative impact on the environment.”

The ministry noted that it achieved a 45% increase in its monitoring and enforcement methods that boosted its detection of environmental violations.

ORL said in a statement that it had set for itself a strategic goal of environmental care and that it conducts a serious and ongoing dialogue with all relevant parties, but also dismissed aspects of the index as “absurd,” Channel 2 reported.

“The published index doesn’t take into consideration the tremendous investments and the trend of improvement. In addition, the index places on the same field giant industrial factories and small work shops, and absurdly compares their influence on the environment.”

The company said that in the last decade it had invested NIS 1.3 billion ($370m) in the field of environmental protection and safety, leading to a 90% drop in its emissions since 2009.

The ammonia storage tank in the northern city of Haifa. (Courtesy of Environmental Protection Ministry)
The ammonia storage tank in the northern city of Haifa. (Courtesy of Environmental Protection Ministry)

The Manufacturers Association of Israel responded to the report with a statement saying “to our regret the index is presented in a manipulative way and doesn’t properly represent the constant improvement in environmental indices of Israeli industry. Israeli industry has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade, and today works according to the highest standards in the world.”

The Haifa Municipality complained that the government did not have an overall plan for preventing pollution in Haifa Bay and as a result was endangering close to a million residents living in the region, Channel 2 reported.

“We once again call on the government to wake up and act to remove the ammonia complex from Haifa Bay, and to halt all polluting plans, and most of all the expansion of ORL — before the next report.”

The municipality has for years been lobbying the government to relocate a massive ammonia tank used by the local fertilizer industry and that it claims, if ruptured, could kill tens of thousands of people. The Supreme Court ruled in May that the tank must be closed by the end of July.

On the report’s good side, Paz Lubricants and Chemicals, a Haifa-based factory, showed a 58% improvement over the last index and dropped from 12th place to 47th on the list.

The Sonol fuel company also managed to reduce its score by 90% over the past two years, the ministry said.

Rotem Amfert Negev made headlines over the weekend after the collapse of a retaining wall on one of its acid evaporation pools dumped some 100,000 cubic meters of toxic waste into Nahal Ashalim, a wadi in the southern Judean Desert. On Sunday the ministry said it was opening a criminal investigation into the incident that experts have assessed could take years to rehabilitate.

The muddy Ashalim stream flowing on Friday, June 30 2017 after acidic water leaked from a fertilizer plant nearby. (Environment Protection Ministry)
The muddy Ashalim stream flowing on Friday, June 30 2017 after acidic water leaked from a fertilizer plant nearby. (Environment Protection Ministry)
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