Europe Asia Pipeline Company, former CEO and two executives are convicted of water pollution in two incidents in which pipeline leaks spilled thousands of liters of fuel into a stream in the Negev

Nati Yefet Feb. 15, 2022

Storage tanks at the oil terminal of Europe Asia Pipeline Company in Ashkelon, Israel last June
Storage tanks at the oil terminal of Europe Asia Pipeline Company in Ashkelon, Israel last June

An Israeli court has found the Europe Asia Pipeline Company, the firm’s former CEO and two other executives of causing serious environmental damage to a stream in the Negev Desert and its environs on two occasions in 2011.

In two incidents, in June and then in September of that year, leaks in a company pipeline spewed an estimated 1 million liters of fuel, combined, into the Zin Valley and the Zin stream.

Judge Sarah Haviv of the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court ruled Tuesday that neither the company – the former Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company – nor the executives had prepared properly for an emergency, and had failed to take steps to reduce the risk of a leak. Even though the leaks resulted from damage to the pipeline caused by the employees of subcontractors working on the pipe, EAPC was responsible for the leak, she ruled.

The company was found guilty of causing water pollution under aggravated circumstances, dumping hazardous wastes in the public domain and creating unreasonably strong odors. Yair Vida, who was CEO at the time; Shlomo Levi, who was vice president for engineering, and Nir Savion, project manager, were convicted of causing water pollution under aggravated circumstances and violating their duties as officials to prevent violations of the Maintenance of Cleanliness Law and the Law for the Prevention of Harm.

Levi and Savion are still employed at EAPC, as vice president for safety and environment and vice president for engineering, respectively.

Haviv ruled that the two had direct responsibility for the leaks, while Vida was responsible for dealing with the leaks once they occurred. Two inspectors from the company – Prosper Elbaz and Arye Amir – were exonerated from all charges. Penalties will be set in March, the court said.

The incidents stemmed from work EAPC undertook to repair faults in the outer covering of the pipeline, which is designed to transport jet fuel over a 153-kilometer route from Shizafon to Eshel Hanasi. The work was contracted to a civil engineering company, Rolider, which in turn subcontracted the Rahat-based firm Har Hanegev Movers to do the earthworks portion of the contract.

At the end of June 2011, during work near Sde Boker, an excavator operator trying to uproot a tree hit the pipe and caused 722,000 liters of jet fuel to leak out of the pipe for five hours, according to the indictment. About 100,000 liters were eventually pumped back into the pipe.

The damage from the spill affected about 15 acres of the riverbed and its surroundings. Some 26,500 tons of contaminated soil had to be removed, but even so large quantities of fuel remained in the ground, harming plants and animal life in the area.

Damage to the Zin stream in the Negev
Damage to the Zin stream in the NegevCredit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

About nine weeks later – in early September, during other maintenance work – a segment of the pipe was exposed on a road about 200 meters from where the first incident occurred. Several hundred thousand liters of jet fuel spilled out before the pipe could be sealed. The indictment said the pipe at that location had not been buried to the depth specified in the Environmental Protection Ministry’s technical standards.

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Four years ago, Rolider and Moshe Vermus, the company’s project manager for the job, reached a plea bargain under which charges were dropped against the company’s CEO at the time, Nir Efroni. Rolider was fined 500,000 shekels ($155,000) and Vermus was sentenced to 120 hours of community service.

Har Hanegev Movers and its owner, Dani Al-Krenawi, and two employees who were at the scene during the June accident were convicted in 2019 of committing environmental offenses that include contaminating water under aggravated circumstances and dumping waste containing a hazardous substance. The company was fined 600,000 shekels. Krenawi was fined 75,000 shekels and sentenced to 120 hours of community service. The same community service was imposed on the two workers, as well as fines of 25,000 and 20,000 shekels, respectively.

Meanwhile, a criminal case against EAPC and four of its executives is underway involving a 2014 incident when 5 million liters of oil spilled into the Evrona Nature Reserve.

The indictment filed against them in a Be’er Sheva court in November called the incident, which affected an area of about 35 acres, “one of the biggest cases of environmental destruction ever to occur in the country.”