Oil drilling in southern Israel
Oil drilling in southern Israel Israel news photo: Flash 90

Environmental activists have declared an “environmental disaster” in Israel's Arava desert, after thousands of cubic meters of crude oil spilled out from a leaking pipeline overnight Tuesday.

The leak, about 20 kilometers north of Eilat, has spilled oil hundreds of meters from Road 90, where the leak was first detected, into the surrounding desert and forest area.

Activists have been working throughout the night to stem the flow of oil and to clean it up. According to the activists, oil has seeped several kilometers into the surrounding area. The oil flowed for at least an hour and a half unchecked, before workers managed to shore up the pipeline.

Figures on how much oil has spilled is not yet available, but activists estimate it to be in the thousands of cubic meters.

Road 90 was closed throughout the night, with the northern entrance to Eilat closed off. The road was reopened Thursday morning. Officials are investigating the cause of the leak, with one official saying that it happened due to drilling work being done in the area in connection with the construction of an international airport outside Eilat.

Environment Ministry officials arrived on the scene Thursday to assess the damage. According to officials, it is possible that “thousands” of plants and animals have been affected by the oil, and an emergency plan to clean up the area is being implemented.