Itongadol.- Millions of liters of crude oil gushed out of a breached pipeline in southern Israel early Thursday, causing heavy damage to one of the area\’s important nature reserves.
Oil spill causes heavy damage to Israeli nature reserve
Firefighters, police, Environmental Protection Ministry officials and oil pipeline maintenance teams were dispatched to the site of the spill, and managed to curtail the flow after about two hours.
The breach occurred during work on the pipeline that was part of preparations for the planned international airport underconstruction in Timna, in southern Israel. Once the leak was located, pipeline company officials shut the valves – but not in time to prevent the spillage of millions of liters of oil.
The pipeline, which links Eilat to the port city of Ashkelon, opened in the 1960s to facilitate the movement of Iranian oil from the Persian Gulf to European markets but since the rupture in Israeli-Iranian relations in 1979 has mostly been used to move oil and oil products from Eilat to different parts of Israel.
The Environmental Protection Ministry\’s Green Police is investigating the cause of the spill, whether it could have been prevented and how it was handled once discovered.
Eilat Police ruled out foul play as the cause of pipeline breach, saying it was likely caused by a technical malfunction from previous maintenance work.
The main road leading to Eilat, a Red Sea resort, from central Israel was closed intermittently as emergency teams contained the leak.
"The oil spill reached the Evrona Nature Reserve, one of the most important reserves in the Arava, which is home to a large deer population and the northernmost douma palm trees in the world," said an Environmental Ministry official.
"Crude oil flowed throughout the reserve, causing serious damage … to flora and fauna," Environment Ministry official Guy Samet told Israel Radio on Thursday. He estimated the spillage at millions of liters.
"Rehabilitation will take months, if not years .. This is one of the State of Israel\’s gravest pollution events. We are still having trouble gauging the full extent of the contamination."
There was no damage on the Jordanian side of the frontier. However, Jordanian news outlets reported that large amounts of hydrogen sulfide were detected in the air around Aqaba – and some reports said that more than 80 people were hospitalized with breathing difficulties after inhaling fumes.
Doron Nissim, director of the nature reserves and national parks in Eilat, said hundreds of acres of nature reserve were damaged by the spill. The main threat is to insects and rodents that live on or close to the surface, Nissim said, adding that the pollution has not seeped deep into the ground. He also said the nature reserve\’s deer population is not at risk.
Treating the pollution caused by the spill will require removing large swaths of land that are steeped in oil, which will further damage the surface, said Dr. Gilad Golub, CEO of the Environmental Services Company, a state-owned firm that deals with all the hazardous waste produced in Israel.