PHOTOS: Israel Hit With Massive 600,000 Gallon Oil Spill

CREDIT: Israel Environmental Protection Ministry

The Evrona Nature Reserve is seen from an aerial view coated in oil.

A nature reserve has been flooded with oil and more than 80 people have been hospitalized from exposure to toxic fumes after approximately 600,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a pipeline in southern Israel on Wednesday, according to media reports there.

The massive spill, which resulted from a breach in the 153-mile Trans-Israel pipeline, has been described as “one of the gravest pollution events in the country’s history.” That’s according to Israel Environmental Protection Ministry official Guy Samet, who also said the spill could take months, maybe years, to fully clean up.

“This is one of the State of Israel’s most serious pollution events,” Samut told Israel Radio. “We are still having trouble gauging the full extent of the contamination.”

The breach and subsequent spill took place in the desert near Eilat, a southern Israel city with a population of about 50,000 people. Though the city itself is not said to be in immediate danger, the now-4.3 mile river of oil is reportedly making its way toward the Jordanian border, where fumes have already been detected.

The Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection is warning people to stay away from the spill, noting that oil “can be a health concern,” contaminating land and releasing hazardous gas. The Ministry noted that a triathlon had been scheduled in Eilat for Thursday, and recommended it be cancelled in light of the fumes.

Some Israeli media outlets have already reported adverse effects to human health. According to at least one media report, more than 80 people in the neighboring city of Aqaba, Jordan, had been hospitalized for breathing difficulties due to hydrogen sulfide in the air. Three Israelis were also reportedly hospitalized for inhaling toxic fumes.

Another large concern is that the spill took place in a nature reserve — specifically, the Evrona Nature Reserve, which the Environment Ministry called “one of the most important reserves in the [Arava desert].” The reserve reportedly holds large deer population, and the northernmost douma palm trees in the world.

The Ministry said the trees were not yet in danger, but that other damage had already taken place. “Crude oil flowed throughout the reserve, causing serious damage … to flora and fauna,” Samut told Israeli Radio.

Doron Nissim, director Eilat’s nature reserve, told Haaretz that hundreds of acres of the 4,200-acre reserve were damaged by the spill.

As of now, the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company says the flow of oil has stopped, and that the breach was likely due to a “maintenance failure” — the nature of which is still unclear. The company told Haaretz that the spill happened in a new section of the pipeline.

The Israel Environment Ministry reported that the company would continue cleanup work throughout the weekend, and that the agency’s “Green Police” had established a special team to investigate the cause of the incident.

The spill is not the only large pipeline spill to have taken place in recent weeks. Last week in Canada, the Alberta Energy Regulator reported that close to 60,000 liters of crude spilled in the province’s north, due to a “mechanical failure.”

The agency said that there had been no impact to wildlife or humans, and that a cleanup had begun.