Environmental Protection Ministry to block eightfold increase in oil through Red Sea

A deal that set out to increase the amount of crude oil being transported across Israel was fiercely protested by an abundance of scientists, residents and environmental organizations.

An aerial view shows storage tanks at the oil terminal of Europe Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) off the Mediterranean coast in Ashkelon, Israel June 10, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN/FILE PHOTO)
An aerial view shows storage tanks at the oil terminal of Europe Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) off the Mediterranean coast in Ashkelon, Israel June 10, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN/FILE PHOTO)

In response to a petition submitted by Israeli environmental organizations, the Supreme Court has allowed the Environmental Protection Ministry to block the entry of oil tankers that would bring oil into the Gulf of Eilat as part of a deal between two companies: the Israeli state-owned Europe-Asia Pipeline Co (EAPC), which is responsible for the Trans-Israel Pipeline; and the Israeli- and Emirati-owned company MED-RED Land Bridge.

The deal, which set out to increase the amount of crude oil being transported across Israel, was fiercely protested by an abundance of scientists, Eilat residents and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, along with several other environmental organizations.

Meital Peleg Mizrachi, a Consumption and Environmental Justice researcher at the Department of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University, explained the potential threat that this deal poses to the environment, particularly to the coral reefs in the Gulf. “EAPC can currently bring in 2 million tons of oil, which is between six to ten tankers,” she said. If the deal were to go through, however, they would be allowed to import “between 15-17 million tons - it’s a multiple of 8, which is much, much more. It’s enough that it would take only one accident for the entire coral reef to be absolutely destroyed.”

A potential accident threatens more than just the 1.2-kilometer reef, however. Said Peleg Mizrahi: “In Eilat, a majority of the economy relies on tourism and tourist shops. For them, it’s not just about the reef.” She explained that the EAPC has been responsible for several accidents since its construction, notably an oil spill in 2014 wherein an estimated 3-5 million liters of crude leaked into a nature reserve in the South. The government approved a NIS 17 million rehabilitation plan for the Environmental Protection Ministry to treat damaged soil and preserve local wildlife.

Tamar Zandberg, the Minister of Environmental Protection, expressed her satisfaction with the Ministry’s success in blocking the additional oil import: “We have been led to environmental achievement, backing up the Environmental Protection Ministry's policy of 'zero additional risk' in the Gulf of Eilat.”

An oil tanker docks in the Mediterranean Sea near the oil port of Europe Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC), as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, June 10, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)An oil tanker docks in the Mediterranean Sea near the oil port of Europe Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC), as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, June 10, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

“We have established a policy and will implement it in practice,” continued Zandberg, emphasizing that “no additional risk will be allowed to the Gulf of Eilat, and that the volume of oil transportation in Eilat must not be increased.”

The EAPC spoke out against the decision, stating: “The clear and decisive position of the Ministry of Finance and the Companies Authority is that EAPC acted as expected in regards to business development of the company's activities with international customers, and that the agreement has significant geopolitical and economic benefits for the State of Israel and its citizens.”

A senior official at the UAE Embassy told The Times of Israel that the government of the United Arab Emirates is not involved in a controversial oil deal to channel Gulf crude from Eilat on the Red Sea to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean, and cancellation of the deal will not in any way impact UAE-Israel relations.

Continued EAPC: “EAPC is committed to preserving the environment, the values of nature and the sea, and will do so with all the means at its disposal and in accordance with the guidelines of the relevant bodies. The EAPC’s activities are of strategic-national importance to the energy economy and its continuous functioning, including the EAPC facility in Eilat, which enables the continuous supply of energy, routinely and even more so in emergencies.”

The Energy Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that they do not own the Trans-Israel Pipeline, and that it is not required for the Israeli energy economy.