(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) The Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry said Monday that the crude oil leak in southern Israel was four times bigger than first believed, and that as much as 5 million liters of oil have polluted the Evrona Nature Reserve in Israel's Arava area.
Ecologists have warned that it is very difficult to fully assess the damage caused to the reserve's ecosystem, and that the area's rehabilitation could take years.
The pipeline, which is maintained by the Ashkelon-Eilat Pipeline Company (AEPC), was breached last Thursday night, at a site some 12 miles north of the southern resort town of Eilat, sending crude oil gushing across an area stretching some four miles.
Ministry officials criticized AEPC for using the operational confidentiality it is afforded under its license to conceal the magnitude of the leak. According to Israel's Channel 2, the Environmental Protection Ministry has shut down the pipeline—a major oil conduit running between the Mediterranean and the Red seas—barring AEPC from resuming its operations pending a full review of its permit.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have launched an emergency operation to try to contain the pollution. More than 20,000 tons of contaminated soil had been removed by cleanup crews by Tuesday morning. An Environmental Protection Ministry official on Tuesday defined cleanup efforts as "a race against time."
Meanwhile, Eilat resident Lisa Mellish has filed a $96 million class action lawsuit against AEPC on behalf of the residents of Eilat, saying they were exposed to toxic fumes as a result of the leak. The lawsuit, filed Sunday with the Tel Aviv District Court by attorney David Mena, alleges gross negligence on the company's part, which it says resulted in the ecological disaster in the Arava.
AEPC issued a statement about the leak saying the company "followed all emergency protocols from the moment the leak was discovered and reported it to all necessary bodies in real time."