Israel's Environment Ministry to Demand $28.8 Million for Oil-spill Damages

Government corporation was responsible for leak in December that caused massive damage to the Evrona Nature Reserve in southern Israel.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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The oil spill in the Arava Desert in December.
The oil spill in the Arava Desert in December.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Environmental Protection Ministry intends to demand compensation of 111 million shekels ($28.8 million) from the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company for the damage caused to the Evrona Nature Reserve as a result of the oil spill there in December.

Most of the payment is for damage to the ecological system within the reserve. If such an arrangement is reached it would mean that one state agency — EAPC is a government corporation — is paying another state agency for damage that largely affects visitors to the region as well as residents.

The lion’s share of funds the ministry is expected to demand — 83 million shekels — is intended to pay for the repair of environmental damage to various services supplied to the public and the area ecosystem by the reserve.

An additional 11 million shekels is being sought for the air pollution that resulted by the evaporation into the air of an estimated 1,500 cubic meters of oil. EAPC will also have to pay for a flight taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the spill to survey the damage, The two-hour helicopter flight cost about 58,000 shekels.

The Environmental Protection Ministry examined the possibility of adding safety valves along the pipeline that would stop the flow of oil in the event of a future leak. They concluded that it was economically feasible to add 28 such valves. The ministry also recommended an analysis of the pipeline with the aim of determining whether its main purpose was strategic or commercial in nature.

The assessment of the environmental cost of the spill assumed that in the core area of the leak, an area of about 1,100 dunam (275 acres), 80 percent to 100 of the ecosystem was damaged. The damage over a wider area was estimated at 5 percent. The injury to the public was assessed separately. The ministry said that because this is difficult to quantify precisely it used conservative estimates to assess the extent of this damage.

Experts differ on the time they believe will be needed for the reserve to recover from the damage. One estimate gave a range of five to 15 years, while another said it would take decades.

According to an internal Environmental Protection Ministry document, there have been 15 gas or oil leaks from EAPC pipes in the past 15 years. The largest was an spill of 9,000 cubic meters of oil in the Evrona reserve in 1975, nearly double that of December.

After the spill in December, citizen groups submitted requests to file class actions against EAPC for damages. The Environmental Protection Ministry’s arrangement with the corporation is liable to lead to a situation where the courts will not require the company to make additional payments in the event of class actions. That means that the public will be unable to receive direct compensation for damages.

It should be noted that EAPC has paid for the cleanup and treatment of the damaged area of the reserve, a bill that will be at least 30 million shekels. The Environmental Protection Ministry is continuing to investigate the oil spill and has not reached conclusions about the incident.

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