EPA (Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline) will pay a fine of NIS 1.6 million ($485,912) after being convicted of contaminating the Nahal Zin river in the Negev with two million liters of jet fuel in 2011. EPA’s former CEO Yair Vida was fined NIS 75,000 ($22,000), former VP of Engineering Shlomo Levy NIS 150,000 ($45,500), and project manager Nir Savyon NIS 100,000 ($30,300).
Judge Sarah Habib rejected the EPA management’s appeal of its conviction last February in her Tuesday’s ruling, writing that “there is no dispute that whoever was in the works area did not practice and did not know how to handle the leak. They were supposed to take precautions, and that was not part of the supervisors’ work procedures – it’s part of the problem. The workers did not receive adequate training for emergency care. EPA executives understand the risks better than those who were working in the field. The definition of the supervisory role was too limited.”
A 254 km. oil pipeline with a diameter of 42 inches connected the coastal city of Ashkelon to Eilat, running jet fuel through Nahal Tzin. After faults had been discovered in the pipe casing and it did not meet the requirements of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the flow in the pipe was stopped and the EPA began upgrading the line. And then, in June 2011, during the upgrade work, a backhoe hit the fuel pipe and caused a huge leak of jet fuel in the nature reserve.
The ecological consequences of the leak were severe. Plants dried up and died, and the animals that relied on these plants were harmed. In addition, there was a grave concern that the pollution would drift down into the groundwater and pollute the desert oasis downstream with the winter flash floods. Environmental Protection inspectors testified that even months after the incident, the stream stank of fuel.
The judge determined that “an examination of the seriousness of the offense in its circumstances leads to the conclusion that the conviction of the defendants should not be set aside. In light of the serious damage caused to the environment, the fact that these are two relatively close incidents, and in light of the fact that this is conduct that goes to the root of the defendants’ occupation as managers in a company whose whole occupation is hazardous materials.”
The project of rehabilitating Nahal Zin was costly and rife with disagreements of different experts regarding the best way to rescue the river.
Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection announced on Dec. 16 that it had halted a plan that would have allowed more oil tankers to enter the Gulf of Eilat, imperiling a major deal to transport United Arab Emirates’ oil over a “land bridge” from Eilat on the Red Sea to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean.
The pipeline deal, signed on Oct. 19, 2020, between Israel’s state-owned Europe Asia Pipeline Co. (EAPC) and MED-RED Land Bridge Ltd., a private Dubai-based company, called for Israel to serve as an artery for Emirati crude to Western markets through an existing EAPC-run pipeline.
Needless to say, the cautionary tale of the Nahal Zin disaster should prevent any future foolish deals that stand to earn Israel a measly few million each year, with the potential of destroying its fragile environmental treasures.