How to Prevent Israel's Next Environmental Disaster

The recent oil spill in the Arava desert is a costly reminder of the need to reduce the country's dependence on oil.

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Employees of the Trans-Israel Pipeline clean up the large deposits of crude oil that gushed out of a breached pipeline north of Eilat,  Friday, Dec. 5.
Employees of the Trans-Israel Pipeline clean up the large deposits of crude oil that gushed out of a breached pipeline north of Eilat, Friday, Dec. 5.Credit: AP

Last week’s oil spill in a southern Arava nature reserve is not the first case of serious environmental damage caused by the oil pipeline, and if those in charge of Israel’s natural resources don’t get their act together, it certainly won’t be the last. Four years ago, a pipeline, also owned by the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company, leaked jet fuel in the Negev, polluting a different nature reserve.

In recent years Israel has become a center of widespread production and delivery of oil and gas from sea to land, and the intention is to expand these operations to additional areas, including the Golan Heights. Damage there from an oil spill would be even worse than what happened in the Arava. The Golan is abundant not only in nature reserves but also in vital water resources, which are susceptible to pollution.

An important lesson to be drawn from the ecological disaster in the Arava is the need to amend the outdated 1952 oil law, which does not provide the Environmental Protection Ministry with sufficient authority and means to enable it to be involved in the planning and supervision of oil and gas production and delivery operations.

A modern law would allow more effective supervision of the oil and gas companies, including Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline, at least in everything regarding surveillance of company storage and transport facilities. The state has already proved that in cases where there is danger to the environment it is capable of exercising its authority, as in the ban it handed down against fracking in the Judean plain.

Symbolically, the Arava oil spill occurred on the same day that a convention opened in Tel Aviv dealing with implementing Israel’s national plan for developing oil alternatives for transportation. And indeed, an additional important lesson from the mishap that transpired in the southern Arava, perhaps more important than amending the law, involves the need to accelerate the reduction of dependence on oil, which pollutes the environment — even when there are no spills — due to emissions from chimneys and cars.

A government decision from last year mandated reducing oil-based fuel use by 60 percent by the year 2025. It also mandated that Israel become a center for research and industrial knowledge in technologies in the field of alternatives to oil. The time has arrived to implement this decision and ensure that the oil that will continue to flow during the coming decade be transported in well-protected pipelines, accompanied by an efficient warning system that will make it possible to minimize the damage in the event of a mishap.cos

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