Three weeks after 5 million liters of crude oil spilled in the Arava Desert, Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company is looking for approval to expand.
By Zafrir Rinat | Dec. 30, 2014

A plan to increase stores of liquid petroleum gas to roughly 60,000 tons is on the agenda of a National Planning and Building Council subcommittee meeting Tuesday.

The panel is set to discuss approval for a national master plan to store the 60,000 tons in three new storage facilities in the north, one of them in Haifa. The rest would be kept in central and southern Israel.

The master plan is also meant to cover a doubling of capacity for an Ashkelon storage facility run by the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company, the company whose pipeline leaked 5 million liters of crude oil into the Arava Desert three weeks ago.

The enlarged facility is set to house 20,000 tons of liquid petroleum gas, which is mostly propane, butane or a mix of the two. It is also set to store a large amount of gasoline.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Planning and Building Council subcommittee will need to examine the council’s recommendation of using a facility in the south that would not transport gas in containers, but rather send it through a pipeline to the refinery in Ashdod, from where it could be distributed.

The new master plan, if adopted, would call for constructing a new storage facility, as well as a new site for storing gasoline. Environmental agencies have expressed concern that the facilities will endanger local residents. Haifa’s planning and building committee recommended constructing another site, at Yavor, due to the high concentration of national infrastructure sites at Haifa’s port.

This month’s oil spill has given rise to criticism of the Eilat Ashkelon company’s lack of transparency and record keeping.

On Sunday the Israel Union for Environmental Defense petitioned the High Court of Justice to lift the pipeline company’s immunity to the law that requires reporting information on its activities. The environmental organization wants the government to explain why it does not release environmental and safety information on the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company’s activities.

The company, which is operating a concession that expires in 2017, said expanding the current facility would cost less than building a new one.

The Ashkelon municipality opposes increasing storage capacity, saying an enlarged facility would detract from residential building development in the southern part of the city. Municipal officials also warned of the dangers transporting gas canisters in and out of the area, including the possibility of Qassam rockets hitting gas canisters in transit. The company said it would uphold all safety regulations.

The government is in contact with the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company about expanding the Ashkelon facility, said Energy and Water Resources Ministry official Dorit Hochner.