Fuel Leak From Major Pipeline in South Israel Is 'Highly Serious,' Says Minister

Though the leak only caused limited soil pollution, environmental officials say the event demonstrates environmental risk posed by transporting fuel by pipeline

Zafrir Rinat
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Workers clear contaminated soil near Moshav Mash'en, in southern Israel, on Monday.
Workers clear contaminated soil near Moshav Mash'en, in southern Israel, on Monday.Credit: Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry
Zafrir Rinat

Fuel leaked from a major pipeline on Sunday in southern Israel, causing soil pollution and sounding alarm bells for environmental officials.

The leak took place in the vicinity of Israel’s Mediterranean coast near Moshav Mash'en, adjacent to the city of Ashkelon.

The pipeline, which transports fuel to refineries in Haifa and is operated by the Europe-Asia Pipeline Company, polluted the soil in a limited area. Still, the Environmental Protection Ministry views the incident as serious because officials say it demonstrates the potential environmental risk posed by transporting fuel by pipeline.

Europe-Asia Pipeline reported the leak to the ministry on Sunday after it was detected by the company’s leak monitoring system, which spotted a change in the strength of the flow of the fuel through the pipeline. After detecting the leak, the organization halted operations. Ministry inspectors were dispatched to the scene and ordered the pipeline company to clean up the contaminated ground. Engineers also worked throughout the night to replace the 12-meter (39 feet) section of pipe where the leak occurred. By Monday morning, approximately 800 tons of polluted soil was cleared from an area of around 3 dunams (3/4 acre).

Workers clear contaminated soil near the Moshav Mash'en, in southern Israel, on Sunday night.Credit: Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry

In an unusual step, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg and other senior ministry officials visited the site of the spill on Monday morning, indicating that the ministry attaches great importance to any incident related to Europe-Asia Pipeline. The ministry announced that it would investigate the circumstances of the leak and take action as needed. The ministry’s Green Police also opened a criminal investigation.

“This is a highly serious incident that again demonstrates how dangerous transporting fossil fuel in the heart of the State of Israel can be,” Zandberg said during her visit. While discussing the increase in oil tanker traffic in the country following an agreement last year between the Europe-Asia Pipeline Company and a UAE-owned company, Zandberg said this week’s incident makes it clear that mishaps occur all the time and that such incidents must not be allowed to take place near sensitive areas on land or sea, such as near the coral reefs in Eilat.

Responding to this article, Europe-Asia Pipeline said that a leak of “a small quantity in an open space” had been detected and that in accordance with applicable procedure, the operations of the pipeline were halted. “A small quantity of fuel that had leaked was pumped out and the company is working to clear the ground. The company has informed all relevant officials,” Europe-Asia said.

Over the past decade, there have been two serious incidents in which pipelines operated by Europe-Asia Pipeline caused major ground pollution: in 2011, the Zin Stream in the south was polluted, and three years later, a leak at the Evrona Nature Reserve in the southern Arava, north of Eilat, caused serious pollution.

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