Site of the oil spill in Arava.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The crude oil spill 20 kilometers north of Eilat last week, one of Israel’s worst ecological disasters ever, has caused inestimable damage to one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. With the arrival of rain in the area on Tuesday, the destruction caused by the oil to small animals, insects and trees is expected to spread. Though crude oil is too viscous to percolate down to aquifers, if the black stuff is allowed to remain in the ground and decompose, the derivatives produced, which are mobile and can migrate, can pose a threat to underground water sources.
That this oil spill could have been prevented only compounds frustration. On the most basic level, the leak seems to be the result of negligence. The Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company, a quasi-governmental body that operates the pipe that transports oil between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, was ordered to move a segment of piping to make room for a new airport being built outside Eilat. But when the flow of oil was renewed, the newly moved pipe jumped violently upward, breaking the pipe connection. By the time the flow of oil was stopped, 5 million liters of crude had spilled out.
Beyond the apparent laxity of those in EAPC who were involved in the moving and welding of the pipe, questions are being raised regarding the speed of reaction.
Did the company take too long to stop the oil from spilling out? There is a tremendous amount of mystery and lack of transparency surrounding EAPC’s operations, justified by the Military Censor due to security considerations.
The company was created in 1968 and was originally owned in equal parts by Israel and by Iran under the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The partnership fell apart after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that dethroned the shah. But a strict level of secrecy has been maintained regarding EACP’s doings.
The State Comptroller’s Office has over the years undertaken a number of investigations of EAPC in the wake of accusations of mismanagement. These state comptroller investigations partly or fully confirmed the allegations, according to a report in TheMarker. But the Military Censor forbade the publication of the comptroller’s report for reasons of security.
The oil spill might have nothing to do with state comptroller investigations and might have occurred whether or not the EAPC’s operations were more openly scrutinized.
But we may never know, because of censorship.
The government could have used the spill as an opportunity to redouble efforts to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy such as solar and wind. What happened outside Eilat underscores the potentially destructive nature of our dependence on oil and should encourage us to decrease its use. Safe and sustainable energy sources such as solar – particularly usable precisely in the sun-drenched Arava where the oil spill took place – should be used more widely.
Instead, Shalom did the exact opposite. During a speech at the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy conference – the perfect venue to launch a state-backed initiative to encourage solar and wind energy – he declared that the government would change its method of acquiring renewable energy.
Although we cannot get into the details, the consensus among representatives of renewable energy companies attending the conference was that Shalom’s idea was terrible and would inhibit instead of encourage more use of solar energy.
Currently, only 1.5 to 2 percent of Israel’s energy needs are met by renewable energy sources, far from the 10% goal set for 2020. By the way, Europeans – who have less solar potential than sunny Israel – have pledged a 20% renewable share by the same year.
The oil spill raises questions about the Military Censor’s treatment of EAPC. It is a major ecological disaster the full extent of which is still unknown. But it also provides an opportunity to beef up our renewable energy sources. Unfortunately, not a single political leader has risen to the occasion.
We can only hope that acting Environmental Protection Minister Ofir Akunis, who was appointed on Tuesday, will take this matter in hand and institute some much-needed changes before a new government is installed some time after March’s general election.