Damage From Oil Spill Could Take Arava Desert Years to Overcome

Authority officials are currently mulling the difficult decisions regarding how to deal with the nature preserve affected by the spill.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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The site of the spill, December 4, 2014.
The site of the spill, December 4, 2014.Credit: Lior Dafni
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Employees of the Trans-Israel Pipeline finished on Friday morning cleaning up most of the large deposits of crude oil that gushed out of a breached pipeline in southern Israel on Thursday, in an event one Environmental Protection Ministry official called "one of the gravest pollution events in the country's history."

There remain many smaller pools of oil and waste in the nearby Evrona Nature Reserve in southern Israel, (some 20 kilometers north of Eilat), but company officials cannot begin working there without permission from the Parks and Nature Authority.

The Parks and Nature Authority has reported that as of yet no animals have been killed by the massive spill, which saw a 7-kilometer river of millions of liters of crude oil flow through the open desert. Authority officials are currently mulling the difficult decisions regarding how to deal with the nature preserve affected by the spill. A heavy odor continues to permeate the surrounding area.

It seems that there will be no choice but to completely remove the top layers of soil in many areas in the nature preserve, which would cause further damage to the local flora and fauna. Estimates point to a rehabilitation process that could take years. Another serious concern is the fate of the Acacia trees in the preserve, as they are an integral part of the food chain in the area. Recent studies have shown that their root structure is located primarily in the upper layers of soil, which means that the Acacia trees in the spill zone are likely to have suffered greatly from the oil, though it is unclear if the damage is irreversible.

Meanwhile, a triathlon was held in Eilat on Friday morning, though the route was altered to avoid areas affected by the spill.

Valves shut, but not in time

The breach occurred during maintenance work that was part of preparations for the international airport under construction in Timna, in southern Israel. Once the leak was discovered, pipeline company officials shut the pipeline's valves – but not in time to prevent the spillage of millions of liters of oil.

The pipeline, which links Eilat to the port city of Ashkelon, opened in the 1960s to facilitate the movement of Iranian oil from the Persian Gulf to European markets. Since the rupture in Israeli-Iranian relations in 1979, it has mostly been used to move oil and oil products from Eilat to different parts of Israel.

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