Official EAPC document: It was a miracle there wasn’t an oil leak in Haifa

Shomrim reveals: Some three years ago, the EAPC discovered that a section of its oil pipeline – close to the sea and 200 meters from a residential area in Haifa – was damaged. The damage was caused, it seems, by infrastructure work that the EAPC wasn’t involved in. The company’s chief engineer said it was “a miracle” that the line wasn’t ruptured, which would have led to an ecological catastrophe. He made the same claim in court. Nonetheless, the company now claims that there was no danger posed to the environment.

Shomrim reveals: Some three years ago, the EAPC discovered that a section of its oil pipeline – close to the sea and 200 meters from a residential area in Haifa – was damaged. The damage was caused, it seems, by infrastructure work that the EAPC wasn’t involved in. The company’s chief engineer said it was “a miracle” that the line wasn’t ruptured, which would have led to an ecological catastrophe. He made the same claim in court. Nonetheless, the company now claims that there was no danger posed to the environment.

Shomrim reveals: Some three years ago, the EAPC discovered that a section of its oil pipeline – close to the sea and 200 meters from a residential area in Haifa – was damaged. The damage was caused, it seems, by infrastructure work that the EAPC wasn’t involved in. The company’s chief engineer said it was “a miracle” that the line wasn’t ruptured, which would have led to an ecological catastrophe. He made the same claim in court. Nonetheless, the company now claims that there was no danger posed to the environment.

Daniel Dolev

Photo: Shomrim

August 12, 2021

Summary

T

he hundreds of thousands of people who live in the Haifa area are well acquainted with environmental dangers. One could be forgiven for thinking that everything has already been said and written about the hazardous materials, the air pollution, the Kishon River, the ammonia, the oil refineries and the gas fields that one can see from many windows in the city. But new information has come to light which is jaw-dropping in its significance. An investigation by Shomrim reveals that Israel had a “miraculously close encounter” with a massive ecological disaster, after the oil pipeline that runs below Israel’s coastal plain, between Ashkelon and Haifa, was damaged – apparently the result of adjacent infrastructure work. The incident occurred some 200 meters from the southernmost residences in Haifa and just as close to the beach.

It is important to point out that the Ashkelon-Eilat Pipeline Company was not responsible for that infrastructure work and, moreover, the exact location of the pipeline is well known and clearly marked on signposts. At the same time, this incident highlights just how severe the ramifications could be if there were to be random damage to an oil pipeline that runs adjacent to other infrastructure sites, and which requires constant maintenance.

In November 2018, Nir Savion, a senior engineering executive for the EAPC, wrote a letter to Haifa Municipality’s chief engineer, Ariel Wertman. In the letter, Savion warned that “This kind of damage caused severe harm to the oil pipeline, and it was only by a miracle that we avoid an oil spill that would have had far-reaching consequences for people, the environment and property – especially given its proximity to water conduits and the sea.” Savion, it seems, is not alone in this assessment: The EAPC made similar claims when it filed a lawsuit with the Haifa Magistrates Court.

Notwithstanding these unequivocal facts, the EAPC opted to claim, in its response to this article, that the “claims are unfounded, tendentious, and have no professional basis.” It added that “there was no danger of environmental damage from the time that the incident occurred and the time it was rectified.” The full response appears below.

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.

Pipeline problems or historic negligence?

The damage was discovered when the EAPC, which is obligated to check the state of the pipeline every five years, discovered in 2018 a major fault in the line that transports crude oil from the company’s storage facilities in Ashkelon to the oil refineries in Haifa.

A short technical explanation: In order to evaluate the condition of the subterranean pipeline, companies use a system called pigging, whereby a special device is inserted into the pipeline, where the pressure-driven flow of the oil is used to push the pig along down the pipe until it reaches the receiving trap. Before the pig is inserted, calipers are inserted along the pipeline, to ensure that there are no warped sections in the pipe which could trap the expensive diagnostic device or even damage the line.

The first test that the EAPC carried out using calipers was on June 6, 2018. To the company’s surprise, the test discovered serious problems with the pipe. After consultations with the company that carried out the test, it was decided to do repeat testing, using another caliper and then using apparatus that was brought to Israel especially for the project. The goal was to locate the exact spot at where the line was damaged, someplace south of Haifa.

Once the damage was discovered, Savion sent an email to Wertman, informing him of the EAPC’s findings. Since there are also electricity cables, water pipes and sewage pipes there, Savion asked Wertman to order the relevant city officials to tour the site. Digging at the site was conducted on November 1, 2018, and four days later, Savion sent a further mail to Wertman. This time, his tone was much harsher. “We have discovered that the oil pipeline has been damaged by an infrastructure pipe belonging to the Mei Carmel Water Corporation, without prior coordination and without permission,” the EAPC official wrote.

Savion argued in that mail that during inspection and digging, it became apparent that a new sewage pipe had been laid close to the oil pipeline, which had warped the bottom part of the line. The damage was so great that Savion wrote that “it was a miracle” there wasn’t a leak. He added that there is a nearby water conduit through which rainwater flows to the sea. If there had been a leak, he wrote, huge quantities of crude oil would have flowed directly into the Mediterranean Sea.

Last year, the EAPC filed a compensation suit against the Mei Carmel Water Corporation, which is the city’s municipal water supplier, claiming 1.1 million shekels for the cost of inspection and repairing the damage. The suit blames Mei Carmel for the damage and emphasizes that the outcome could have been a major oil leak. “One can only imagine the harm that would have been done to man, nature and property if there had been an oil leak at such a sensitive location,” the suit argued. “Such a leak would have meant that, within minutes, hazardous material would be flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. It should be stressed that the pipeline transports crude oil 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – at high pressure.”

Aerial photography of the area
In November 2018, Nir Savion, a senior engineering executive for the EAPC, wrote a letter to Haifa Municipality’s chief engineer, Ariel Wertman. In the letter, Savion warned that “This kind of damage caused severe harm to the oil pipeline, and it was only by a miracle that we avoid an oil spill that would have had far-reaching consequences for people, the environment and property – especially given its proximity to water conduits and the sea.”
The damage to the pipeline
If the EAPC is right and this is what caused the damage to the oil pipe, then the oil pipeline had been in very bad shape for some two and half years before it was discovered. A document obtained by Shomrim shows that it took several more months for the damaged section to be repaired, which eventually happened in January 2019.

The EAPC also argued in the suit that the damage to the pipeline happened when a new sewage pipe was being installed in March 2016. That work was, according to the EAPC, responsible for the damage. To replace the old pipe, Mei Carmel inserted a new pipe inside the old one, so that the old asbestos pipe shatters when the new one is inserted. If the EAPC is right and this is what caused the damage to the oil pipe, then the oil pipeline had been in very bad shape for some two and half years before it was discovered. A document obtained by Shomrim shows that it took several more months for the damaged section to be repaired, which eventually happened in January 2019.

Mei Carmel rejected the EAPC’s claims in its defense, arguing that the problem was caused by historic negligence on the part of the pipe company. According to Mei Carmel, the original sewage pipe was laid in 1955 and, when the oil pipeline was laid in its place – five years later – it was not done in coordination with other bodies and that the distance between the two lines was not considered safe. It also claimed that work replacing the sewage pipe did not damage to the oil line, and that “it is possible that the source [of the damage] was wear and tear.” The full Mei Carmel response appears below.

The turtles are safe – for now

Hearings on the case between the two companies have been scheduled for early next year, but, beyond the question of culpability, it’s hard to argue with assessments of the severity of the danger posed by a damaged oil pipe.

To understand the severity of the catastrophe that could have happened, it’s enough to think back to earlier this year, when large globs of tar washed up on much of Israel's Mediterranean coastline, apparently, the result of oil spill from a ship caught in a storm. Hundreds of tons of crude oil were spilled, and more than 150 kilometers of coastline were contaminated. In another incident, in 2007, hundreds of tons of crude oil were leaked when the EAPC pipeline was ruptured near Tirat Hacarmel, just a few kilometers from the site of the current incident. In addition to that, those who were present vividly remember the stench of oil and the soaked earth that followed two leaks in southern Israel – in the Evrona National Park and at the Zim Stream.

Haifa shore. Photo: Daniel Dolev
Mei Carmel rejected the EAPC’s claims in its defense, arguing that the problem was caused by historic negligence on the part of the pipe company. According to Mei Carmel, the original sewage pipe was laid in 1955 and, when the oil pipeline was laid in its place – five years later – it was not done in coordination with other bodies and that the distance between the two lines was not considered safe.

“This is the worst possible place that Israel could experience an oil leak,” says Dr. Dor Edelist, a marine macroecologist from the Institute for Marine Studies at the University of Haifa. “The oil would have leaked exactly to the place that is the top breeding ground for turtles in northern Israel. Exactly that beach. Secondly, it’s very close to the Shikmona National Park, which is just 200 meters to the north, and which is a very sensitive natural habitat.

“This is the worst possible place that Israel could experience an oil leak,” says Dr. Dor Edelist, a marine macroecologist from the Institute for Marine Studies at the University of Haifa. “The oil would have leaked exactly to the place that is the top breeding ground for turtles in northern Israel.

Dr. Dor Edelist. Photo: Shomrim

“The park was hit hard by the tar pollution earlier this year and the Nature and Parks Authority came along with volunteers to clean the place up very quickly. Oil and tar are basically the same material, but there’s a very big difference between them: When oil spills into the sea, it takes a while before it reaches the beach – and that’s when there’s a process of erosion and oxidization, which makes it harder and turns it into tar. When the pollution is in the form of tar, it’s a lot easier to pick it up and get rid of it. If it were liquid oil, which is what we’re talking about in this case, it’s a lot harder to get clean up. It could be a whole lot worse.”

What about the homes of Haifa residents? According to Edelist, despite their proximity, the leak would not have endangered homes directly, since they are at a higher altitude than the point of the pipeline that was damaged. “The houses are on a small ridge,” he explains, “so the leak wouldn’t reach them. I don’t believe there would have been a large quantity of toxins, but it would have created an awful smell and people with sensitives might feel dizzy.”

The nearby beach would not have escaped so lightly. “It’s a very busy beach,” says Edelist. “On a sunny Saturday, up to 2,000 people visit the beach, and there are daily activities there, like surf clubs, beach soccer and beach volleyball. The promenade attracts thousands of people a day. For the city of Haifa, it would be a major catastrophe if there were a large oil spill there.”

Responses

EAPC: “Unfounded, tendentious claims” | Mei Carmel: “The EAPC is trying to dodge responsibility”

Notwithstanding the clear content of the documents that the EAPC submitted to the courts, and despite the comments from its chief engineer, the company submitted the following response to Shomrim, which we reprint here in full.

“Once again, these are unfounded and tendentious claims, which have no professional basis, and which seek to present the false impression that there was any danger of environmental damage. Like the previous articles, in this case too there is an attempt to hoodwink the public. The EAPC conducts regular inspections of its pipelines and facilities, the purpose of which is to locate points that need treatment – as happened in this case. It should be stressed that there was no danger of environmental damage from the time that the incident occurred and the time it was rectified. The company conducts routine maintenance of its facilities, which adhere to the strictest standards; we also adhere to the most rigorous specification, including international standards.”

The Mei Carmel Water Corporation said in response that, “Mei Carmel, the EAPC and all the involved third parties are currently engaged in a legal process, following a lawsuit submitted by the EAPC. That lawsuit is based solely on circumstantial evidence and is an effort on the part of the EAPC to avoid responsibility for damage to infrastructure pipeline that it controls. In the area in question, there are several infrastructure lines and facilities that belong to various bodies, which are not the responsibility of Mei Carmel. It is our clear and unequivocal assertion that Mei Carmel did not violate any legal obligation and that the EAPC was responsible for work at the site in question – but did not coordinate with other infrastructure facilities. If the EAPC had not installed its pipeline dangerously close to other facilities – and without any protection – the incident and any damage it is claiming would not have happened.”