Environmental Protection Ministry launches criminal inquiry into ORL operations after measurements indicate gross emission irregularities

Amir Ben-David
Published: 08.03.12

Israel’s Oil Refineries Ltd. (ORL) has been trying to escape the public image of major environmental polluter but may now have a hard time doing so.

The Environmental Protection Ministry recently launched a new criminal inquiry into its operations after measurements indicated hundreds of cases of emission irregularities at its power station and dozens of additional irregularities at sulfur treatment facilities.

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CEO Pinhas Buchris is likely to be investigated.

The refinery has long been at the center of environmental wrangling with residents from the surrounding areas and environmental organizations. Over the past few years the company has taken steps to reduce the scope of its pollutant emissions and the move to natural gas is set to contribute to these efforts.

Yet now it seems that notwithstanding, last year the systems which were supposed to prevent pollution were not working properly.

ORL is required to carry out constant monitoring of plant emissions which it then sends on to the Environmental Protection Ministry. The data transferred to the Haifa District under the management of Shlomo Katz allegedly revealed that during 2011 the company did not fulfill conditions and emitted pollutants beyond the permitted levels.

The emissions include nitrogen-oxide and sulfuric-oxide, pollutants that can grossly increase health risks and are a source of other air-based pollutants.

The ministry does not usually rush to take criminal or administrative steps against the plants even when irregularities are discovered but they noted that in this case, the irregularities were extensive and so there is no escape from a criminal investigation.

The refinery was supposed to convert to natural gas thus significantly decreasing the scope of pollutant emissions but the process was halted due to natural gas shortages.

ORL said in response: “The company operates according to the strictest environmental protection standards. Over the last few years ORL has invested over NIS 600 million ($150 million) in order to fulfill the most advanced international standards in the field of environmental protection.

“We are working in complete cooperation with the Environmental Protection Ministry and in accordance with its instructions and directives.”