Crying Over Spilled Oil

By Alex Cicelsky
Center for Creative Ecology, Kibbutz Lotan

Y’now those premonitions?

Yesterday i drove at from Kibbutz Lotan to Eilat after sunset. I’m glad i couldn’t see the damage from the oil spill. Flashing lights of closed lanes warnings and and emergency vehicles marked the entrance to Beer Ora where huge pipe sections lay on either side of the highway underpass under construction for the new airport. I was nauseous from both the noxious smell, hydrogen sulfide, and the knowledge that the Acacia tree savannah was now streaked with slick black rivers of suffocation and poison.

When the rare rains come the thin wadis shine from the water. They continue to shine as a layer of clay, deposited by the streams, lays moist for days as weeks. The Acacia trees live only in these veins. Now from above the oil spill fills the veins and looks line lines drawn with a thick black marker of a child’s connect-the-dots worksheet. In indelible ink.

Four days earlier I drove past the same spot and thought “if there is a break in the EAPC pipe here, how can they possibly shut off the flow of oil without millions of liters gushing out? There are no valves that i know of between the Eilat and Yotvata pumping stations. If there is a leak then the entire volume of the pipe would just flow out. They can’t possibly be so stupid as to be pumping oil while replacing this new section of the pipeline”. 

The details of the ‘accident’ have yet to be published. Worker negligence? Was there a contingency plan. And if there was apparently it wasn’t implemented.

The Nature Authority and ‘greenies’ of the Southern Arava and Eilat fought, and it was a fight, for years and years to protect the Evrona Plains and the unique Acacia “forest”. Threats to it ranged from breaking the seasonal water flows from the mountains, lowering of ground water levels from over pumping and from being bulldozed to become the replacement for the inner city Eilat airport. David (see below) mirrors what I said at regional planning meetings about the new airport that is being constructed just north of the Evrona savannah. Aqaba International Airport is not the only option – on the Israeli side there is an airport at Ovda – a military airfield with a civilian terminal where charter flights land all winter long. A high speed train, as smart cities around the world use, could connect the existing infrastructure to Eilat. The planners wouldn’t consider using Ovda because of the distance: 50 km. Too far and up hill. For the record, the train line being built between Ben Gurion International and Jerusalem is 56 km long and has tremendous bridges traversing valleys between several tunnels drilled through mountains. A train between Eilat and Ovda Airport would be a significantly simpler challenge. I assume that it would cost less than building an entirely new airport. But no, gotta build a new airport.

This disaster is a harbinger to the next: the Red-Dead Water Conduit planned to transport 1.2 Billion cubic meters of sea water annually to a desalination plant that will dump its brine into the Dead Sea in order to supply thirst Amman Jordan with drinking water. They are talking about building a nuclear power plant in Aqaba to push the water to the desal plant. If not nuclear then it will use some fossil fuel – very smart adjacent at a coral reef reserve on an active earthquake fault. What happens when That pipeline breaks?  The engineering firm hired by the World Bank to assess the project told Arava residents of his experience in previous projects “You can imagine our frustration trying to supervise work in accordance with the high environmental standards in the program when the contractor that offers the lowest bid wins the tender”. Israel produces more than half of its drinking water from Sea Water Reverse Osmosis plants on the Mediterranean. Why not make more and sell it to Jordan? Why not let them build their own plant on the Med and pipe it across thin Israel?  And how about powering it using PV solar fields during the day instead of coal fired power plants at night?  Don’t even start me on the foolishness of selling the newly found natural gas to Europe instead of using it for generations to cut air pollution in Israel and replace imports of coal…

(Parks and Nature Authority)

Israel can not afford to be ‘ten years behind’ Europe in environmental protection measures and energy efficiency. There is too much brilliance here, too little land, few natural resources (except high solar radiation) and a fragile ecosystem. That is what is so aggravating: I’m sure there are Israeli engineers working around the world avoiding exactly what happened at Beer Ora / Evrona. Israelis work around the world in sustainable development. Sustainable means working with our neighbors. We have to work with our neighbors because the environment has no borders. Stewardship means working for those without voices. 

If the trees could speak….

From the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies: