Surface Oil Successfully Removed From Evrona Spill Site, Cause of Leak Still Unknown

Environmental Protection Ministry: Investigation into how five million liters of crude spilled from pipeline will take two months.

Yigal Ben-Ari / INPA

The Environmental Protection Ministry will present a plan to the cabinet next week for rehabilitating the Evrona nature reserve, following the massive crude oil spill there on December 4. The surface oil has already been removed from the area, but much contaminated land still requires cleaning after an estimated five million liters of crude oil leaked from a pipeline.

On Sunday, Deputy Environmental Protection Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) briefed the cabinet on what has already been accomplished. He said any danger of the spill polluting the Gulf of Eilat has been averted, thanks to the removal of most of the oil and construction of an earthen dam to prevent the remainder from flowing into the gulf in the event of a heavy storm.

Akunis added that the ministry’s “Green Police” are still investigating the cause of the leak, which has been called the worst ecological disaster in Israel’s history.

The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee toured Evrona yesterday. Yitzhak Ben-David, the ministry’s deputy director general for enforcement, told MKs that the investigation would probably take about two months. Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) decided to set up a subcommittee to monitor the clean-up, and draft recommendations for improving the safety of oil transport.

Yitzhak Levy, VP of operations for the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, also accompanied the tour. He insisted that EPAC hadn’t lied about the dimensions of the leak in its early reports, saying its initial estimates were simply mistaken.

Part of the polluted 5 percent of land at Evrona. Photo by Yigal Ben-Ari / INPA

Levy also said the company still didn’t know how such a massive leak occurred. “The pressure in the pipeline is monitored continuously, and there’s a fire control system,” he said. “The placement of the valves that are supposed to halt the oil flow complies with international standards.”

The crude oil ended up inundating Evrona, which is situated 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) north of Eilat. Evaporation of the remaining oil has led to high concentrations of benzene in the air. Because the chemical compound is cancerous, the Environmental Protection Ministry has closed the affected area to visitors. Anyone who wishes to view the damage can do so from an outlook near Be’er Ora, west of Evrona.

Israel Nature and Parks Authority inspectors have been working to reduce the harm to wildlife, among other things by driving away birds that might otherwise land and become covered in oil. They are also collecting oil-soaked acacia seeds, to prevent animals eating them.

The affected area constitutes only 5 percent of Evrona, but the area is considered the heart of the reserve. Consequently, INPA is extremely concerned about both the oil damage and any additional damage the clean-up will cause. For now, it has barred further clean-up activities involving heavy equipment. Manual cleaning of affected areas will begin in another few days.

Workers cleaning away contaminated sand at Evrona. Photo by Yigal Ben-Ari / INPA