Negev gas leak
Nahal Tzin gas leak. Photo by Tzahi Olainik
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The Nahal Zin nature reserve in the Negev was polluted by another jet fuel leak yesterday, 10 weeks after an incident that caused serious pollution in the reserve and required extensive rehabilitation work.

Israel Nature and Parks Authority officials were in Tel Aviv yesterday for a meeting on the reserve's restoration, when they were informed of the latest leak and immediately returned to the reserve. The accident happened when workers were covering the fuel pipeline that had been damaged on June 29.

The pipeline, taking jet fuel to IDF bases, is operated by the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC ) and passes through the Nahal Zin reserve. The pipeline, which has been undergoing repairs since the first leak at the end of June, was damaged by heavy equipment at 4 P.M. yesterday and fuel spilled into the reserve and a stream.

EAPC staff rushed to the scene and stopped the leak shortly afterward. It is still not clear how much fuel flowed out. Israel Nature and Parks Authority inspectors believe the spill was considerably smaller than the previous incident, when sources said 100,000 liters of jet fuel leaked into the reserve.

Early yesterday evening, the company began work to pump and remove the fuel that had spilled into the stream. The latest incident happened about half a kilometer from the June 29 accident when a pipe was also struck by heavy equipment.

EAPC has been cleaning up the polluted soil, and the Nature and Parks Authority was planning to start rehabilitating the landscape in coming days. The authority intended to move soil from another Negev site to the reserve, to cover the digging carried out during the initial clean-up operation.

EAPC, which is supervised by the Finance Ministry, operates several fuel pipelines and a large facility for fuel and gas infrastructures south of Ashkelon. The Environmental Protection Ministry has started a criminal investigation against EAPC and its directors after the leaks.

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan yesterday placed the full responsibility of the repeated damage on EAPC and its directors, whom he accused of negligence.

"I intend to demand of the finance minister that he change the law that grants the company immunity from environmental laws," Erdan said. "Legislation will force the company to keep its obligations and enable us to enforce the law effectively against EAPC's negligent acts."

EAPC said in a statement that "during acts to cover the pipeline [in the Nahal Zin reserve], which had been renovated three weeks ago, heavy equipment belonging to an outside contractor damaged the pipe. The company detected the spill immediately, isolated the leaking section and stopped the spill. Soon the company will start pumping the fuel and repairing the pipe, and carry out work to restore the reserve to its original state, in coordination with the Environmental Protection Ministry. Contrary to Erdan's statement, the company is subject to all the environmental laws and acts according to strict regulations."