‘Pipeline to Ashkelon poses threat to Eilat, Red Sea coral'

Knesset Health and Environment Committee told that State not prepared for a massive spill, which would have severe repercussions.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
February 14, 2011 14:27
3 minute read.
THE HILTON Hotel in Eilat. More foreigners are vis

Eilat Hilton 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Knesset Health and Environment Committee spared a moment on Monday to consider the implications of increased activity on the part of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co. on the Gulf of Eilat.

If a massive oil spill occurred in the gulf, it would have severe repercussions, the committee was told.

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EAPC runs a pipeline from Eilat to Ashkelon that carries all types of oil north. Since 2003, the pipeline has had the capability to carry oil south as well. However, the Arab boycott has prevented ships from docking at Eilat to take on oil for points south, for fear that Arab countries would not let the ships dock after loading up in Israel.

Consequently, only about four to six oil tankers come to Eilat Port each year. However, if the “reverse flow” project were to get off the ground, activity at the Eilat terminal would increase exponentially.

EAPC, the Eilat Municipality and the Environmental Protection Ministry are prepared for Type I or Type II spills – local or regional spills. However, a massive spill in which a 250,000- ton tanker were to catch fire and rupture would be more than the state could handle, Rani Amir, head of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Sea and Beaches Division, told the MKs.

Such a spill would likely destroy the coral reef. No spill of such magnitude has ever occurred off of the country’s coast. In fact, according to a Knesset Research Center report prepared for the committee’s session, the volume of spills from tankers has been decreasing over the past decade.

EAPC’s terminal is located at one of the most sensitive locations along the Eilat coast – a couple of hundred meters north of the coral reef and just south of the Dolphin Reef, according to the Knesset Research Center report.

Moreover, because the water is relatively deep in the gulf, tankers can reach as close as 200 meters to shore, whereas in other ports, they have to dock much farther out.

The head of the rapid response station situated between EAPC’s terminal and the coral reef described the extremely fast response time necessary to prevent serious damage.

“We have 15 minutes to respond and to get equipment in the water. Moreover, the conditions in the water are such that any oil spill won’t stay in the port but will always drift south into the coral reef,” he told the legislators.

There is active cooperation and training between Israel and Jordan, but none with Egypt, he said. While there’s no active oil terminal in Aqaba, there is a tanker permanently anchored in the gulf storing oil, he said.

Committee chairman Dov Henin (Hadash) was disturbed by the threat posed by the permanent stationing of a tanker filled with oil, and demanded that the Foreign Ministry reach out to Jordan on this issue.

Over and above the damage to the coral reef and thus to tourism, an oil spill could have a disastrous effect on water quality in Eilat, the Health Ministry representative warned. There’s an old desalination plant in Eilat that provides drinking water for the city that would have a hard time dealing with water contaminated with oil.

The Foreign Ministry representative raised the issue that if the Red-Dead Conveyance were ever built, it would pump 2 billion cubic meters of water a year out of the gulf to desalinate and replenish the Dead Sea.

“A massive oil spill could force any desalination plant to close, at least temporarily,” he said.

The Red-Dead Conveyance is far from a sure thing, however.

The World Bank will be conducting feasibility studies until at least the middle of 2011.

Then it will be up to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to decide whether it should be built. The cost of building it is estimated to run in the billions of dollars.


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