It took the EAPC more than seven years to remove millions of liters of oil from a 60-year-old pipeline it once called “a ticking time bomb”

A Shomrim investigation reveals that a section of pipeline containing 7.5 million liters of jet fuel and diesel has been left untouched for years – despite the clear danger of a horrific ecological disaster. The reason: a legal battle over the value of the oil. Another section of the same pipeline is also full of fuel and the Environmental Protection Ministry is demanding it be emptied immediately. In the past two months, following a deal with a company from the UAE, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company claims that it adheres to stringent standards and cares about the environment. But does it? The EAPC scandal, the first in a series

A Shomrim investigation reveals that a section of pipeline containing 7.5 million liters of jet fuel and diesel has been left untouched for years – despite the clear danger of a horrific ecological disaster. The reason: a legal battle over the value of the oil. Another section of the same pipeline is also full of fuel and the Environmental Protection Ministry is demanding it be emptied immediately. In the past two months, following a deal with a company from the UAE, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company claims that it adheres to stringent standards and cares about the environment. But does it? The EAPC scandal, the first in a series

A Shomrim investigation reveals that a section of pipeline containing 7.5 million liters of jet fuel and diesel has been left untouched for years – despite the clear danger of a horrific ecological disaster. The reason: a legal battle over the value of the oil. Another section of the same pipeline is also full of fuel and the Environmental Protection Ministry is demanding it be emptied immediately. In the past two months, following a deal with a company from the UAE, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company claims that it adheres to stringent standards and cares about the environment. But does it? The EAPC scandal, the first in a series

Daniel Dolev

Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom - GPO

July 27, 2021

Summary

T

he bottom line in this story is as clear as it is infuriating: a Shomrim investigation has found that 7.5 million liters of jet fuel and diesel oil has been kept for the past seven years in a rotted pipeline that was laid in 1959 – and Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, the government body that owns the pipeline, has done nothing to rectify the situation. The EAPC has itself has described the pipeline as “a ticking time bomb,” but has singularly failed to expedite a solution. In response to this article, the Environmental Protection Ministry said that a different section of the pipeline still contains fuel, does not meet regulations and is an environmental hazard. The ministry has demanded the immediate removal of fuel from the section in question.

In the past few months, the EAPC has hit the headlines because of a deal it reached with a company from the United Arab Emirates, which would see millions of liters of oil flow through the Eilat to Ashkelon pipeline – which was laid some 50 years ago. The EAPC rejected criticism of the deal, claiming that the pipeline is safe and that all its facilities adhere to the most stringent safety regulations and are environmentally responsible.

The following investigations highlight several problematic issues that would appear to contradict this claim.

A 1959 model pipeline

This story begins in the late 1950s, when a 16-inch diameter pipeline was laid from Eilat to Haifa. The purpose was to transport oil from Israel’s southernmost port to the oil refineries in Haifa. A decade later, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company was established as a joint venture between Israel and Iran. Ownership of the pipeline was transferred to the newly established company. Later, a new pipeline was laid – this one with a 42-inch diameter – between Eilat and Ashkelon, and the older pipeline, for the most part, fell into disuse.

Left in the ground for more than a decade, the old pipeline began to rust – but, in the early 1980s, it was decided to use it to transport jet fuel from the Be’er Sheva area to air force bases across southern Israel. To this end, a deal was signed in 1981 between the owner of the pipeline, the EAPC, and another government company known by its Hebrew acronym Kamad. In practice, Kamad leased the pipeline to transport fuel. The section of the pipeline that was mainly used for this purpose was between Be’er Sheva and the Shizafon area. The southern section, from Shizafon to Eilat, became a kind of underground reservoir for the runoff liquids from the pipeline – diesel or jet fuel of poor quality that has been determined unfit for use.

The agreement between the EAPC and Kadam remained in force for more than two decades. In 2004, the EAPC declared that it wanted to end the agreement and did so four years later. That same year, the EAPC decided to halt all use of the pipeline, given its poor condition: Some 50 years after it was laid, it had become clear that large sections were no longer secure against leakage. In some case, the pipeline was exposed to the elements, since it was no longer buried underground. In the end, it was decided that the EAPC would fix the northern section of the pipeline – and that the defense establishment would foot the bill. And this is, indeed, what happened.

The southern section, in contrast, had become a de facto reservoir and was a very different story. According to correspondence between Kadam and the Energy Ministry from the time of the end of the contract with the EAPC, in June 2008, the pipeline contained some 7.5 million liters of oil. For the sake of comparison – that’s 50 percent more oil than was spilled in the disaster that contaminated the Evrona nature reserve in 2014.

Evrona nature reserve in 2014. Photo: Amos Ben Gersom - GPO
In its letter to the court in 2013, the EAPC wrote that, “continuing to store oil in the southern section is a ticking time bomb; in the end, it will explode.” In 2014, the parties informed the court that they had reached a compromise that would allow for the pipeline to be emptied – which took at least another year to happen.

To all those involved, it’s clear that leaving jet fuel in an antiquated pipeline is a very real danger. But where should the contents be removed to? The most economically viable alternative would be to a container owned by the EAPC in Eilat. That might sound simple, but it would be a hugely complex operation that would ruin the quality of the jet fuel and reduced its value. That, in turn, could leave the EAPC open to criticism and even claims of compensation.

According to correspondence between the various involved parties, it seems that the EAPC wanted assurances that it would not be held responsible for any claims. Kamad claimed that it is not party to the issue, since, the moment its contract with the EAPC ended, it bears no responsibility. Instead, it redirected the EAPC to Delek, which owns the contents. Delek, in turn, claimed that it was the state that instructed it to store the oil in the pipeline, for emergency use, and that it has no authority to decide what to do with it.

The EAPC eventually tired of being shunted from one body to another and turned to the courts for a decision on what to do with the millions of liters of oil. It stressed that time was an important factor and that the danger of an ecological catastrophe if there were to be a leak was growing by the day. In its letter to the court in 2013, the EAPC wrote that, “continuing to store oil in the southern section is a ticking time bomb; in the end, it will explode.”

In 2014, the parties informed the court that they had reached a compromise that would allow for the pipeline to be emptied – which took at least another year to happen.

The ‘new’ pipeline

Similar woes afflicted the company’s main pipeline, the 42-inch diameter one, which transport crude oil from Eilat to Ashkelon. This pipeline is currently at the center of a heated public discussion, because of a plan to transport millions of liteF2013rs of oil through it – despite the fact that it is over 50 years old and is in poor condition (as revealed by the Shomrim investigation in June). This is the same pipeline that was damaged during maintenance work in 2014, leading to a leak that caused huge ecological damage to the Evrona nature reserve, just north of Eilat. Now it has been revealed that, three years prior to that, there was another serious incident in which the pipeline was damaged. At the time, the EAPC said that the damage posed “a clear threat to the integrity of the pipeline.”

In November 2011, the EAPC was forced to “lower” the pipeline close to the Dudaim Waste Facility north of Be’er Sheva. The plan was to dig up the pipeline from the earth and then to rebury it deeper underground, in order to allow for new train tracks to be laid. There was concern that the weight of the trains would endanger the pipeline. This was a complex feat of engineering, which entailed exposing the pipeline and then, using specialist equipment to prevent the metal from warping, lowering it slowly into place. All of this took place while crude oil was still flowing through the pipeline. Any mishap would have catastrophic ramifications.

The EAPC did not do the job itself, but used an external company which, in turn, hired a third firm as a subcontractor. In addition, a fourth company was brought in to oversee the whole operation on behalf of the EAPC. On December 21, 2011, when the pipeline was exposed, a “swelling” was discovered. According to the EAPC, this twist in the metal raised serious concerns about the integrity of the pipeline and possible leaks.

Former Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2014. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom - GPO
To all those involved, it’s clear that leaving jet fuel in an antiquated pipeline is a very real danger. But where should the contents be removed to? The most economically viable alternative would be to a container owned by the EAPC in Eilat. That might sound simple, but it would be a hugely complex operation that would ruin the quality of the jet fuel and reduced its value. That, in turn, could leave the EAPC open to criticism and even claims of compensation.

According to the EAPC, it was negligence on the part of the subcontractor that caused the damage and the company brought in to supervise failed in its job by not reporting the damage to the EAPC immediately. It took three more weeks for the EAPC to finally – on January 12, 2012 – to order work to halt. Subsequently, it terminated contracts with some of the companies involved in the project and others.

That decision led to a series of lawsuits and counter suits between the parties. At the heart of the issue was whether the damage to the pipeline was the result of negligence on the part of one or more of the companies working on the ground, or whether the warping existed beforehand and was only discovered when there pipeline was exposed. In the end, the sides reached an out-of-court agreement and withdrew their lawsuits. Nonetheless, documents submitted to the court by the EAPC show just how close we came to another oil spillage:

“It should be pointed out that the pipelines in question are full of oil and are therefore not only heavy, meaning that they must be handled with extreme care, but there is also a danger that if the pipeline is breached, beyond the damage to the line itself, the leak of a huge quantity of oil would cause severe ecological and environmental damage. Despite all this, during the work carried out by the defendant [One of the subcontractors – DD] or someone working on its behalf, severe damage was done to the 42-inch pipeline; the line was bent out of shape and the metal warped, posing a clear threat to the integrity of the pipeline and the need for specialize repair works.”

Elsewhere, the EAPC added: ‘This kind of kink severely endangers the pipeline and could easily lead to an oil leak. As anyone who deals with oil pipelines knows, this would cause untold ecological and economic damage and could lead to criminal charges. Even if the pipeline was not breached, the fact that there is a kink raises real concerns of a leak.”

The lawsuits were withdrawn, and the repair work was carried out by a new contractor.

EAPC’s response

“The EAPC is committed to safeguarding the wellbeing of local residents and protecting natural resources”

The EAPC sent Shomrim the following response: “The EAPC is a supervised government company which is monitored by many different bodies, including the Finance Minister, the Government Companies Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry. The company’s pipelines and facilities are maintained routinely; they are in proper working order and, like all the company’s facilities, they meet the most stringent Israeli and international standards (API). Proof of this can be found in documents written by senior professions at the Environmental Protection Ministry, who determined that our company acts in accordance with strict standards while maintaining the pipeline. The EAPC is committed to safeguarding the wellbeing of local residents and protecting natural resources, the sea and the environment; all of its activities reflect this. The company owns the most advanced equipment, conducts regular emergency drills and is ready for any eventuality.

“Indeed, in one profession opinion submitted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, which oversees the company, the following was written: ‘The EAPC routine operations show that it is a professional and veteran company which specializes in transporting oil on land and at sea. The company and its management have agreed to every request from the Environmental Protection Ministry and is cooperating in every way and in accordance with the law – sometime going beyond that. The company’s maritime division and its engineers adhere strictly to the most advanced standards of maintenance for pipelines, pumps, underwater piper and oil depots. Even when there are incidents and mishaps – on land or at sea – the company acts in accordance with and in the spirit of this ministry’s instructions. It is possible to state that it is an environmentally responsible company’.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry responded that the southern section of the pipeline was, indeed, emptied in 2015. The statement added that another section of the line “is not active, does not meet standards and poses a danger. We would point out that this section contains jet fuel, which the company was instructed by the ministry to empty out, thereby reducing the risk to the environment, and to halt operations, in accordance with the regulations. At the start of this year, the EAPC provided the ministry with plans to shut down the southern section of the pipeline, in accordance with the regulation. The plans were approved for execution by the ministry and we recently issued a demand to fully deal with the pipeline and the threat it poses to the environment. The Environmental Protection Ministry continues to oversee the operations of the company and will take any measures against it deemed necessary.”