Environment Ministry Brings Charges Against Haifa Oil Refineries for Polluting Air

Facilities accused of a number of transgressions, including emitting excessive quantities of pollutants such as sulfur oxides and carbon monoxide.

Yaron Kaminsky

The Ministry of Environmental Protection brought charges against Haifa Oil Refineries on Thursday for environmental violations, including emission of air pollutants, in what the ministry said was part of its efforts to clean up the Haifa Bay area.

In an indictment filed in Haifa Magistrate Court, the ministry charged the refineries and two of its subsidiaries with violating a ministry directive and the terms of its business license as a result of environmental transgressions that occurred in 2012-2013. The charges were submitted after an investigation by the Green Police and after hearings held with managers of these companies.

The charges claim that the facilities involved did not meet standards for prevention of air pollution. Excessive quantities of pollutants such as nitro-and sulfur oxides, as well as carbon monoxide, were emitted into the air by these plants. They thereby violated a directive, under which they have been operating as well as the terms of their business license, according to the indictment.

The charges against the refineries include infractions of guidelines for toxic waste treatment. This relates to sludge created during petroleum refining and to the treatment of sewage. This toxic sludge must be transferred to approved disposal sites. According to the indictment, 28,000 tons of sludge had accumulated in the refineries compound. The refineries did not follow ministry directives to treat the sludge and remove it. It was finally removed from the site, 13 months behind schedule. Most of it was sent to two sites in the Negev and the rest was sent to a treatment facility overseas.

The Ministry for Environmental Protection emphasizes that large investments were made in these plants in recent years to address environmental concerns, leading to a significant drop in the emission of dangerous toxic products. Relating to the pressing of charges, the ministrys director general David Leffler said that this was a direct continuation of our zero-tolerance policy vis--vis offending plants, and of our efforts to reduce pollution in the Haifa Bay area. The message to industries is clear: Well use all the enforcement tools at our disposal, including shutting down offending plants.

Over the last few weeks, discussion are continuing at an appeals committee at the National Council for Planning and Building, regarding a plan for regulating the area around the refineries. The plan aims to coordinate planning in the compound as well as allowing for development and further production. Many agencies have objected to any expansion of the refineries. The Minister for Environmental Protection Avi Gabay and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman toured the area this week and discussed ways to prevent pollution with the managers of industries in the area.

The refineries group responded by saying that it has invested more than 1.2 billion shekels (over $300 million) in recent years in order to resolve the problems. The sludge which had accumulated was removed in a big project that ended two years ago. The emission of pollutants is now dealt with using state-of-the-art technology in coordination with the ministry. This has reduced emission by 60-70 percent, the company said.