Five Days After Disaster, PM Visits Leak Site: I Came as Fast as I Could

Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis put in charge of environment ministry as rain falls on Evrona nature reserve, threatening to wash crude into Gulf of Eilat.

Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Five days after millions of liters of crude oil gushed out of a ruptured pipeline into the Evrona nature reserve, causing severe environmental damage, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the site of the leak, saying he had "been busy," but that he came as soon as he could.

“In recent days we’ve been busy with many issues, but the moment we were informed of the oil leak, I’ve followed the situation closely and I came here at the first opportunity,” Netanyahu said during his visit, which lasted 35 minutes.

The prime minister, who has served as acting environmental protection minister since last month’s resignation of Amir Pertez (Hatnuah), also said, “there is much action being taken here, and it will likely continue for a long time. We will allocate the resources necessary for protecting the surrounding areas and environment.”

Netanyahu added that the objectives are to protect public health, working to minimize the dangers of the pollution reaching Eilat, and rehabilitating the contaminated nature preserve.

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying that Netanyahu was briefed by the acting Environmental Protection Minister, and the head of the ministry’s southern branch on the leak. According to the officials, the health of Israelis residing in the surrounding areas is not at risk, and that the infrastructure built along the pipeline managed to contain the oil within the nature preserve.

Tomer Appelbaum

Environmental Protection Ministry officials stated that serious joint efforts to contain the damage by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Israel Fire and Rescue Services, the Israel Police, as well as the Eilat and Arava drainage authority are underway.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has put Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) in charge of the Environmental Protection Ministry. Netanyahu will remain the environmental protection minister. Despite concerns that the oil might spread as far as the Gulf of Eilat, it turns out that the ministry’s director general David Leffler is abroad at a climate conference in Peru. He toured the spill area on Thursday, the day of the leak, before leaving for Peru.

Akunis stated that he has been in contact with Leffler, and ordered him to return to Israel as soon as possible.

Strong rain started falling on the reserve by midday Tuesday, raising concerns that floodwaters will sweep contaminants as far as Eilat. Cleanup teams in the area were instructed to evacuate the area due to the rainy weather. Highway 90 in the Arava, between Eilat and Kibbutz Ketura, was closed. 

Preparations for the rain continued Tuesday at the reserve, with accelerated removal of oil puddles and contaminated soil. The environmental protection ministry sent equipment capable of soaking up the oil to the affected area, to prevent its flowing toward Eilat.

The ministry’s Marine and Coastal Division was busy erecting barriers to any oil that might reach the coast and endanger the coral reefs in the gulf. The measures taken were similar to those used when following leaks from oil tankers.

Further work included the raising of earth barriers, intended to contain the flow of contaminated floodwater.

The Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company announced Tuesday that the amount of oil that had leaked was 5 million liters, much larger than previously estimated. So far, 20,000 tons of contaminated soil have been removed from the reserve and surrounding areas.