Oil pipeline burst
Repair work being done on the oil pipeline that burst yesterday. Photo by Eli Hershkowitz
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A fuel leak that continued for hours yesterday seriously damaged the Nahal Tzin nature reserve and could endanger plants and animals at the Negev site.

The leak is the second since the weekend, when fuel spilled in the Gulf of Eilat, threatening the area's coral reefs.

In yesterday's incident, more than 1.5 million liters of jet fuel leaked from a pipeline operated by the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company after earthmoving equipment ruptured a portion of the pipeline, which runs from a site near Be'er Sheva to Eilat and the nearby Ovda area.

The Environmental Protection Ministry opened an investigation yesterday into the circumstances of the fuel leak that will examine the extent to which Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline personnel were prepared for such a leak.

Environmental damage, which some fear may included polluted water sources, could be serious because of the desert terrain in which the accident occurred. Plants and animals in the area are dependent on the meager sources of water and nutrients around the site and are particularly sensitive to pollution of this scope.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ), who heads a joint parliamentary committee on health and the environment, called the spill at Nahal Tzin "a warning light that requires a drastic change in environmental protection in the oil industry."

He called on the National Infrastructure Ministry to support legislation that would expand oversight of fuel production and transportation.

Eilat-Ashkelon it followed all emergency procedures, isolated the affected section of pipe and stopped the leak. It also promised to work to restore the area in full coordination with the relevant authorities.

The company said the damage took place when an outside contractor who had been supervising pipeline repairs left the area after an inspector from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which is responsible for the nature reserve, asked him about digging work in another part of the reserve.

The fuel leaked while workers were testing the pipeline.

The company said the damaged section of pipe was automatically sealed off as soon as the leak was detected. But Raviv Shapiro, the parks authority's southern region director, said the fuel continued to spill long after the pipeline was closed off.

Dozens of salvage personnel arrived on the scene as soon as the leak was reported. Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline sent a tanker truck to pump out the fuel and enlisted assistance from the Rotem Fertilizers plant in the area.

Work crews dug a trench to drain off the fuel and to prevent further damage to the nature reserve. A cleanup effort was also begun in areas that had been polluted by the spill. Although the accident occurred at about 7:30 A.M., the leak was not stopped until late afternoon.

The fuel reached up to half a kilometer away from the damaged section of pipeline.