In one of Israel’s worst environmental accidents, millions of liters of crude oil gushed from a pipeline leak into a desert nature reserve on Wednesday and Thursday, causing severe damage, reports the BBC.
The spill damaged the Evrona nature reserve about 12 miles north of Eilat, near the Jordanian border. The Evrona is an environmentally important nature reserve in the Jordan rift valley, which runs from the Sea of Galilee in Israel to the Red Sea.
The pipeline links Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat to the Mediterranean port city of Ashkelon. The pipeline was opened in the 1960s to move oil shipped from Iran to European markets. Since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the resulting break in Israeli-Iranian relations, it has been used to move oil from Eilat to different parts of Israel.
According to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the breach in the pipeline took place during maintenance work being done in preparation for a new international airport under construction near Eilat. Pipeline workers were ultimately able to shut the pipeline’s valves, but not before significant spillage had already taken place.
One Environmental Protection Ministry official, Guy Samet, called the spill “one of the gravest pollution events in the country’s history.” He said there is now a four-mile long river of oil flowing through the nature reserve.
“Rehabilitation will take months, if not years ….We are still having trouble gauging the full extent of the contamination,” added Samet.
According to Doron Nissim, director of the nature reserves and national parks in Eilat, hundreds of acres of the reserve were damaged.
The Environmental Protection Ministry’s Green Police are investigating the spill. Eilat Police ruled out terror or sabotage as the cause of the pipeline breach, though they did not specify how they could be certain. They believe the leak was likely caused by a malfunction from previous maintenance work.
The oil flow did not reach the Jordanian side of the desert area. Jordanian news, however, reported that hydrogen sulfide was detected in high concentrations in the air around Aqaba, the Jordanian Red Sea port city adjacent to Eilat.
More than 80 people near Aqaba were reportedly hospitalized after inhaling fumes, according to Jordanian sources.