Site of the oil spill in Arava.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Environmental Protection Ministry officials said on Tuesday that they would be considering opening a civil lawsuit in addition to the existing criminal investigation against the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company as a result of the firm’s December oil spill in the Arava Desert.
If filed, such a lawsuit would relate to the ecological damages caused by the company and would be unprecedented, a legal representative for the ministry, Galia Rivlin, told members of the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee.
Politicians and civil society representatives gathered to discuss the aftermath of the spill at the committee session, which was one of many focusing on green issues as part of Knesset Environment Day on Tuesday.
On December 3, the EAPC’s infrastructure leaked some 5 million liters of oil into the Arava Desert, causing particular harm to the Evrona Nature Reserve. Environmental Protection Ministry southern district manager Guy Samet estimated that the damages stand at about NIS 130 million, while the organization Adam Teva V’Din – Israel Union for Environmental Defense said the figure is actually NIS 526m.
During the committee session, Knesset members and other participants delved into the permit conditions of the EAPC and the fact that the company today is exempt from standard planning and building procedures.
Stressing that the company’s permit is expiring in 2017, MK Dov Henin (Hadash) urged the government to decline an extension and instead require the company to be monitored.
MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) meanwhile called for the establishment of a fund for damage rehabilitations.
“The EAPC has been operating properly since the moment the disaster happened, but it just did not operate properly up until that point,” said Hevel Eilot Regional Council chairman Udi Gat. “If there were valves in closer proximity it would have been possible to reduce the damage, and this is what needs to be done.”
In response to the criticisms, EAPC CEO Eyal Cohen stressed that the company has “taken on full responsibility for the incident,” including financing the cleanup exclusively and providing “unrestricted funds for the rehabilitation.”
Thus far, he explained, the EAPC has invested NIS 30m. in the rehabilitation and is implementing a plan with the Environmental Protection Ministry to reduce the distance between valves.
MK Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), who was standing in for MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) as chairman for the day, said the committee would be appealing to the finance minister to convene a work meeting with all relevant officials regarding the necessity of the pipeline.
“The committee requires the EAPC to continue working to restore the damage caused by the leak and submit to the committee, within 30 days, a report detailing the lessons learned and steps taken to rehabilitate the area and to prevent similar incidents in the future,” Peri said.