Europe Asia Pipeline Co. and four of its senior executives were indicted Tuesday for their role in a December 2014 oil-pipeline leak that prosecutors called “one of the biggest cases of environmental destruction ever to occur in the country.”
The indictment says the leak damaged 144 dunams (36 acres) of nature reserve land. Experts have estimated the damage that occurred at more than 100 million shekels ($31 million).
As detailed in the indictment, some 5 million liters of crude oil leaked out of the state-owned company’s Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline near Evrona, about 10 kilometers north of Eilat. The company at the time was constructing an access road to the new Rimon Airport, which required a section of the pipeline to be lowered and diverted to an area close to the Be’er Ora junction. During the work, an engineering failure occurred that led to the leak.
The indictment, filed in the Be’er Sheva Magistrates Court, charges EAPC and the four executives with offenses under the Water Law, the Prevention of Hazards Law and the Maintenance of Cleanliness Law.
The four executives are Simcha Koren and Shlomo Levi, vice presidents for operations and engineering; Arthur Weiss, an engineer; and Haim Bar-Sela, head of the unit for pipeline maintenance.
The indictment alleges that the main reason for the spill was an engineering failure due to work being undertaken incorrectly, without proper planning, without following the rules for safety, and without proper coordination between those planning and those carrying out the work.
An investigation by the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Green Police, whose findings formed the basis for the charges, found that after the installation, EAPC workers didn’t check whether the components to connect the pipes were able to handle the pressure created by the flow of oil. As a result, pressure built up to four times the maximum permissible level. That caused the pipe to disconnect from a nearby installation, causing oil to leak into the nature reserve.
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The nature reserve damaged by the spill covers 40 square kilometers and prior to the accident had been home to a unique mix of wildlife and acacia trees. The reserve was completely covered in oil and, despite an extensive clean-up, some of the contamination remains in the soil and has caused damage to protected plant and animal species, and to water sources.
EAPC said in response to the indictment that the spill “was an exceptional occurrence that happened as a result of an on-the-spot failure that did not occur during the company’s day-to-day operations, but during work to alter the pipeline’s route. Immediately after the incident, the company acted responsibly, efficiently, professionally and quickly.
“Since the incident, the company has learned lessons, changed procedures and is working hard to rehabilitate the land that was damaged, using the most up-to-date methods in the world in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority,” it said.
Before Tuesday’s indictment, several lawsuits were filed against EAPC, most importantly a class action suit in the name of the citizens of Israel by four law firms. In addition, a class-action suit was filed in the name of Be’er Ora residents and a claim for damages was filed by the Hevel Eilot Regional Council.
After five years – with the suits reaching the Supreme Court and the government and Nature Reserves Authority joining in – the sides reached a settlement in 2019 under which EAPC paid 100 million shekels in damages.