Arava oil spill
Arava oil spillIsraeli Environmental Protection Ministry/Flash 90

An Eilat resident filed a class action suit in the Tel Aviv District Court Sunday, on behalf of all the residents of Eilat against the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) for last week's oil spill in the Arava desert.

The class action suit, amounting to 380 million shekel ($95.4 million), was brought by Eilat resident Lisa Mellish, via attorney David Mena. 

The suit accuses EPAC of negligence and ecological damage, and calls for 200 million shekel ($50.2 million) to be repaid for rehabilitation of the Arava region - in line with regulations by the Ministry for Environmental Protection and the National Park Organization - and another 180 million shekel ($45.2 million) to be paid to the residents of Eilat, over health risks and inconveniences caused by the disaster.

The massive pipeline oil spill in the Arava desert, near Be'er Ora 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Eilat in the southern Negev, involved the spill of over 1,000 cubic meters - the equivalent of 40 tanker trucks - of oil. It was described as an "environmental disaster" by environmental activists.

The spill not only closed Route 90, but also proved to introduce a number of health risks. 

"Dozens of people were evacuated from their homes at night following the huge oil spill, and were damaged by breathing contaminated air and affected by the strong oil smell," the class action suit claims. "The people suffered respiratory distress and vomiting, and some remain injured days after the fact." 

The suit also notes that residents were kept from engaging in physical activity from the fumes, and that all residents with chronic diseases were forced to stay indoors for long stretches.

"The smell was evident and created air pollution which made it difficult to breathe, causing vomiting and headaches," it continues, noting that Eilat's air pollution has risen since to 80% contaminated - well above the under-30% average. 

It was also stated in the complaint that "the Ministry of the Environment has recommended that Eilat Municipality cancel the triathlon competition planned for Friday in the affected areas of the leak, due to health concerns during the competition."

Attorney David Mena spoke about the case to Walla! News

"If EAPC thinks it can lurk behind the privileges it enjoys, then it's wrong," Mena stated. "In such cases there is no confidentiality order over its failures." 

Mena's remarks over confidentiality refer to EAPC's legal confidentiality agreement since 1968; for over 40 years, it has not been required to maintain transparency over its actions in general. Walla! also noted that EAPC had made contacts in Iran shortly after the confidentiality agreement was forged, as Israel and Iran had a working diplomatic relationship at the time. 

"EAPC will pay a heavy price for all its shortcomings because it was not the first time it was responsible for pipeline failures and oil spills," Mena added. "Three years ago there was a similar case in Nahal Zin but luckily the area is uninhabited. This failure repeated itself and EAPC hasn't learned from the experience." 

EAPC: We Did What We Had to Do

EAPC responded by evading accusations of foul play or negligence.

"As part of construction of the Timna airport, EAPC was asked to perform a routine redirection of segment 42 of the pipeline from Eilat to Ashkelon, around the area in which the airport is supposed to be," it stated. "Due to what appears to be a technical problem for reasons yet unclear, a leak occurred on the line."

"When the event was made evident, the leakage control department of the company warned workers to immediately close the valves in that section of the pipeline," it continued. "The valves were closed and isolated that section of the leak [. . .] following the closing of the valves, the flow stopped, but some of the fuel was trapped between the valve and the affected area."

"In view of the rapid reaction of employees and the leakage control section, which was equipped with all the technology to prevent a large-scale event, the company reported the leak to all relevant authorities as required in real-time and worked on the emergency procedures flawlessly." 

It was also reported that "the company invests heavily in preventive maintenance which includes repair of lines in accordance with the highest international standards. In addition, the company invests heavily in equipping the most advanced systems in the world in terms of operation and maintenance of the lines."

"The company manages an emergency system equipped with the best technological means and has trained response teams for providing professional and quick response to emergencies. "

According to the EAPC, "since the spill, the company operates around the clock in coordination with the Ministry of Environment officials and representatives of the National Parks Authority, to pump leakage and remove the contaminated soil. The pumping operation has removed most of the leakage."

"According to regulations of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and National Parks Authority, company operations have removed enough oil to return the area to stats quo," it continued. "EAPC is a gateway to the energy of the state of Israel, and operates hundreds of miles of lines used by the energy sector and provides the most distillates in Israel refineries and other factors and activities essential for the functioning of the economy and it has worked reliably and efficiently for decades."