The company and two company officials were convicted of responsibility for the oil leak that caused ‘one of the largest ecological disasters in the country’s history.’ The offenses could have carried a sentence of up to three years in prison, but the agreement calls for monetary fines alone

Zafrir Rinat. Feb 11, 2024

The Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court convicted the Europe Asia Pipeline Company, which runs the Eilat-Ashkelon pipelineand two of its executives for the severe pollution of the Evrona nature reserve in the southern Arava region in 2014, due to an oil leak from the company’s pipeline. 

The verdict, which followed a plea bargain, was handed down three weeks ago and made public on Thursday morning. The plea bargain stipulates fines alone, even though by law the executives could have been sentenced to up to three years in prison. The legal proceeding against two other company officials is ongoing, and they were not included in the plea bargain. 

The State Prosecutor’s Office filed the indictment against EAPC three years ago, following an investigation by the Environment Ministry’s Green Police. The plea bargain did not include prison time because, based on the findings of the investigation, the state concluded that what occurred was a number of separate failures rather than a deliberate or negligent action. 

As detailed in the indictment, in December 2014 approximately five million liters of crude oil leaked from the company’s pipeline in Evrona, 10 kilometers north of Eilat. The indictment said the leak caused “one of the largest ecological disasters in the country’s history.” One hundred forty-four dunams (over 35 acres) of the nature reserve were affected, with damage estimated at 100 million shekels (about $275 million).

According to the charges, the leak occurred during work the company was doing as part of construction on an access path to the Ramon airfield. The work required changing the routing of the pipeline by lowering it and moving one section, located near the Be’er Ora road junction.Open gallery view

Oil spill at Evrona Nature Reserve.Credit: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

During this work, there was an engineering error that caused the pipe to break, with oil leaking out.As a result, much damage was done to the nature reserve and the ecosystem in the area.

The oil swept along flora and fauna, including some protected species. It also damaged the structure of the soil and the habitats of many plants and animals. Damage was also inflicted on the upper crust of the soil, compromising its ability to let water soak through, a vital component of the ecosystem.

The charges state that the main cause of the engineering error was shoddy workmanship, done in the absence of detailed plans and in violation of proper procedures and safety precautions. There was also no coordination between the company’s planners and the people executing those plans.

People in the company, according to the indictment, did not examine the ability of the mechanisms used for connecting pipe sections to withstand the oil pressure after these were installed. As a result, pressure inside the pipes rose to a level which was four-fold higher than the one permitted, which caused the pipe to break and release the oil flowing through it.

As part of the plea bargain, EAPC was convicted of all the charges attributed to it in the original indictment – aggravated pollution of water, disposal of waste containing hazardous material and waste disposal in a public area.

Shlomi Levi, the vice president of operations at the company at the time of the leak, was found responsible for violating water safety laws, waste disposal laws and the law regulating the prevention of hazards. Haim Bar-Sela, who was responsible for work on the ground, was convicted of violating water safety laws and the law regulating the prevention of hazards.Open gallery view

The 2014 Evrona oil spill near Eilat.Credit: Sassi Horesh

He was also found guilty of abetting the disposal of hazardous materials and leaving waste in the area. The two men still work for the company. The trial of the company’s vice president for engineering, Simcha Koren, and the engineering department’s engineer Arthur Weiss, is still underway.

The plea bargain determined that EAPC would pay a fine of 1.5 million shekels, the maximum fine allowed for these violations. Levi was fined 35,000 shekels and Bar-Sela was fined 20,000 shekels, as well as being required to do 180 hours of community service. The penalties have not received the final approval of the court, which will hear the case in two months.

In tandem with the criminal trial, state attorneys, together with the Ministry for Environmental Protection, filed a class action lawsuit due to the damage caused by the company. As part of a settlement that was reached five years ago, EAPC agreed to cover the costs of cleaning up the leak and to provide 100 million shekels as compensation to the public for damaging nature, and to the appellants, for the rehabilitation of the nature reserve and for the prevention of future damage.

This was not the first time an oil leak in the company’s pipeline has caused pollution. Forty-five years ago, there was a leak that caused great damage near the Evrona nature reserve. In that case, there were no legal proceedings against the company. Thirteen years ago, another fault in the company’s pipeline caused serious pollution in the Nahal Tzin nature reserve, in the Negev. The company and several of its senior officials were convicted of being responsible for the leak and were fined.

Attorney Amit Bracha, the executive director of Adam, Teva V’Din, an environmental advocacy group, said in response to the plea bargain that “this was an absurd penalty, mocking environmental concerns without remotely reflecting the criminal behavior of this company. The Evrona reserve is a public asset. State prosecutors must demand much higher fines due to the criminal harm to a unique natural asset, as well as imposing prison sentences on people found guilty of polluting.

State oil conglomerate fined NIS 1.5 million for massive leak in nature reserve – Times of Israel

Two employees of Europe Asia Pipeline Company also handed small fines; CEO of environmental lobby says punishments ‘a mockery,’ urges state prosecution to demand jail time

By SUE SURKES.  February 2024,

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