A team of multidisciplinary experts, including 31 environmental scientists, experts from the private sector and representatives of the Israeli Ecological Association, recently published an opinion document dealing with In an agreement signed about a year ago Between the Government Oil Company EPA and the United Arab Emirates, regarding the transportation of crude oil from the Persian Gulf via Israel. The document, which details the environmental risks involved in the agreement, is addressed to the Israeli government ahead of the hearing of the petition filed with the High Court against the agreement. Berman-Frank from the University of Haifa.
Under the agreement, the EPA’s oil pipeline will serve as a kind of land bridge to transport oil originating in the Emirates, as a land replacement for the Suez Canal. The busy. The oil will arrive at the port of Eilat by sea, be dismantled at the EPA oil terminal and flowed north by land to the Ashkelon terminal. And will significantly increase the presence of oil tankers on the shores of the country.With the increase in oil transportation activity, the risk of severe oil leaks near the shores of the country or along the land pipeline of the EPA will also increase. The authors of the document warn of this.
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The ecological danger of oil
Incidents of oil spills in the marine environment are among the most severe man-made ecological disasters. Large oil leaks in the not-too-distant past have largely shaped the way man perceives his responsibility towards the natural environment. Despite the steps taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, significant leaks occur around the world every few years, due to failures in the safety measures in the tankers and drilling facilities at sea. Only this year did we receive a reminder in Israel of the damages of oil leaks, and the difficulty of dealing with them, About hundreds of tons of tar were ejected off the coast of Israel following an oil spill that occurred in the eastern Mediterranean.
oil It is a fatty substance that floats on the surface of the water and covers them with a sticky layer that can cover many miles of sea, depending on the extent of the leak. The immediate environmental danger is that posed to animals that tend to stay on the surface of the water, such as birds, turtles and marine mammals. These animals are immersed in the oil layer as they land on the surface of the water or ascend through them to breathe. Also, oil can cover the coast and seal the sand surface, which serves as a living environment for many small creatures.
Beyond the immediate physical harm to animals, oil leaks also cause very significant long-term damage. The main one among them is the release of environmentally toxic substances, such as compounds called ring aromatic hydrocarbons. These compounds Carcinogenic And impair the normal development of animals. As a result, entire living environments may suffer from a general depletion of the animals in them, the disappearance of species and changes in the food web.
Much of the expert document is devoted to detailing the environmental and ecological damage that could be caused by an oil spill in the area. The biggest concern is a leak in the Gulf of Eilat, which will damage its coral reef, which is a unique natural site of global importance.
The reef in Eilat is the northernmost coral reef in the world. In addition, she demonstrates Exceptional durability For the rise in water temperature resulting from global climate change. It is estimated that this warming is today The main cause of death Of coral reefs in the world, which are particularly sensitive to changes in temperature. Due to this many scientists in the world hope that Exploration of the reef in Eilat Will offer scientific treasures that can in the future help rehabilitate damaged reefs. Research Of Prof. Yosef Levya of Tel Aviv University, who also signed the document, found that corals in the Gulf of Eilat are indeed sensitive to oil pollution, as it impairs the ability to distribute and settle young individuals.
Experts also point to the danger to the Mediterranean ecosystem, which includes rare habitats, such as The hedging tables – Flat rocky reefs that form at sea level along the coasts of Israel and Lebanon. They add that the expansion of oil transportation in Israel increases the risk not only of large leaks, but also of small and permanent leaks, which are absorbed into the ecosystem and are usually not documented at all, but their cumulative impact on the environment can be severe.
In addition, Eilat is known as the area prone to earthquakes, due to its sitting directly on the replica system of the Dead Sea Rift. In fact, the strongest earthquake measured in Israel since the establishment of the state Occurred in 1995 About a hundred miles south of the city. Following the incident, a building in the city collapsed and cracks opened in the roads and other buildings. According to the report, there is a fear that strong noise in the future will rupture the oil tanks in the port or the oil pipeline, thus creating a huge ecological disaster at sea or in the Arava and the Negev, where the pipeline passes.
The authors of the document also describe the expected danger to the water economy in Israel, which could leave the residents of the country without clean drinking water in the taps. According to them, a significant portion of Israel’s domestic and industrial water supply – close to 80 percent – relies on seawater desalination facilities along the shores of the Mediterranean. In the event of an extensive oil leak from the Ashkelon oil terminal area, there is a fear that the oil slick will spread north, penetrate the filters through which seawater is pumped to the desalination facilities, and cause them to shut down for many months. A similar danger is posed to the desalination facility on the coast of Eilat and to three Jordanian facilities in nearby Aqaba. In addition, the drafters of the document point out that groundwater reservoirs along the oil pipeline may also become contaminated in the event of a leak – a scenario for which the Water Authority is not prepared at all.
Oil barrels | Illustration: Shutterstock
The overarching recommendation of the scientists who signed the document is to halt the implementation of the agreement. According to them, the recommendation is also requested due to the history of Repeated malfunctions In the pipeline of EPA over the years. The leak that occurred in 2014 In the Evrona Nature Reserve, it is still considered one of the most serious environmental disasters in the country’s history. They add that the approval of the agreement by the Israeli government will thwart the state’s efforts in dealing with the climate crisis, as it encourages the use of polluting mineral fuels, and stands in contrast To her international statements On the subject.
The document does not overwhelm exceptional opinions and data regarding the dangers and damages of oil leaks, which may have been missing for state captains at the time of decision-making. Instead he presents information that is mostly known to all, and in some cases even self-evident, and would have been appropriate if he had received the required reference from the state before signing the agreement. In addition to highlighting the dangers, the experts add that the State of Israel is not prepared for oil spill incidents, and they detail a list of measures necessary for this purpose. The document is an initial and abbreviated report published due to the urgency of the issue, and an expanded version of it is expected to be published later.
It is worth noting that the EPA company conducted earlier this year Risk Survey For pollution of the sea from oil in the Gulf of Eilat through an external company, and submitted it to the Ministry of Environmental Protection for the purpose of approving the expansion of the activity of the Eilat terminal. However, the survey only deals with the Gulf of Eilat, and does not address the possible risks from the activity of the onshore pipeline or the oil leak in the Mediterranean. Nor does it touch at all on the ecological aspect of oil pollution. Ministry of the Environment Reject all conclusions The survey, as they claim it does not meet the required level. The expert report adds that the information presented in the survey regarding the current regime in Eilat is inaccurate and even misleading.