Israel-UAE Deal: Firm Director Says More Incoming Tankers Reduces Risk of Oil Spills, Pollution

The contested deal would lead to a considerable increase in the number of oil tankers arriving in Eilat annually – from a handful of ships to dozens, capable of carrying up to 270,000 tons of oil each

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מכלית נפט באילת 24.11.2021
Credit: ששי חורש
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The director of the Europe-Asia Pipeline Company responded to harsh criticism regarding their deal to stream oil from the United Arab Emirates to Europe through Israel during a government committee hearing on Monday, saying that increasing the number of oil tankers carrying petrol to Israel’s shores will reduce the risk of oil spills and sea pollution, as then the crews will be “more skilled.”

The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee hearing was held following the signing of the oil transport deal between EAPC (formerly the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline) and the MED-RED Lad Bridge company from the UAE, and concerns that it will increase the risk of an oil spill.

At the hearing the director, Itzik Levi, said several times that EAPC hasn’t had any malfunctions in oil tankers for 40 years.

Professionals from the Environmental Protection Ministry and Knesset members present pointed out that this claim is false, noting that there have been over 10 spills in the 1990s and 2000s.

In addition, EAPC chairman Erez Halfon said at the hearing that any harm to the deal will compromise Israel’s credibility in future governmental transactions, adding that the petrol transported under the deal will also serve the citizens of Israel.

The Energy Ministry representative at the hearing responded that contrary to the company’s claims, the petroleum products to be transported are not intended for the use of Israelis, and that the Israeli economy doesn’t need them.

The deal will lead to a considerable increase in the number of oil tankers arriving in Eilat annually – from a handful of ships to dozens, capable of carrying up to 270,000 tons of oil each. In addition, the quantities of oil concentrated at EAPC facilities in Ashkelon prior to shipping to other tankers will grow, and these will then sail for Europe through the Mediterranean waterways.

Director Kalfon added: “In the next 20 years, Israel – like other world countries – will be based on at least 85 percent fossil fuels. We must not hurry to toss out fossil fuels before we have a substitute. Some of the fuels from the deal will serve the Israeli economy.

If there is no deal, we think there will be a fuel shortage in the country. Reports speak of the EAPC harbor which is a strategic security asset – it’s not just EAPC’s but also the Energy Ministry’s.”

Halfon did not relate to the climate crisis caused by the burning of fossil fuels – which has caused an increase of 1.1 degrees in average global temperatures, compared to preindustrial times.

In addition, Halfon’s comments ignored the scientific consensus which says that the use of these fuels should cease and that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 45 percent in the next eight years – otherwise the severest implications of the crisis will no longer be avoidable.

Nearly all other participants opposed the deal. Ariel Avlin, senior deputy director at the Government Companies Authority, was the sole supporter, saying that “The government’s policy explicitly calls for the independence of government companies. It would be a problematic precedent for the government to interfere in the company’s operations.”

Energy Minister Karine Elharar and Tourism Minister Yoel Rezbozov have already gone on record opposing the deal and activists say that in closed meetings, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has said the deal will be rescinded.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg repeated her ministry’s position of “zero risk” to the Gulf of Eilat and the coral reef. “No financial consideration is worth this huge risk,” she said, adding that there can be no increased risk of oil spills to the Gulf of Eilat.

In response to Haaretz queries, the Environmental Protection Ministry said that from 1990-1993 there were eight cases of oil leaks from tankers in the Gulf of Eilat, which led to indictments. In 2008 there was a soot leakage from a tanker in Eilat, leading to a 170,000 shekel fine to the tanker.

From 1994 to 2020, there were some 10 incidents of oil spills at sea at EAPC’s terminal in Ashkelon, all from the company’s underwater pipeline.

In addition, the ministry noted other malfunctions in EAPC’s overland pipelines, chief among them the Ein Evrona reserve spill, which polluted the unique nature reserve in the Arava desert with some 5,000 tons of crude oil, and the incident near Moshav Mash’en, near Ashkelon, in September this year.

The ministry added that the company’s Eilat beach pipeline also spilled an unknown amount of oil, after which the company was forced to evacuate a large plot of land. The marine effects are that incident are still being monitored.

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