This week, Israel experienced what has been termed one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history: an massive crude oil spill in the Arava region in southern Israel.

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Image by Roy Talbi, National Parks Authority

Yesterday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MoEP) announced that its the Green Police unit was investigating a burst pipeline that had caused crude oil to gush out and damage the Ein Evrona nature reserve in the area.

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Image by Rotem Dotan, National Parks Authority

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Image courtesy of the Ministry of the Environment

According to MoEP, “The pipeline, which carries oil between Eilat and Ashkelon, was breached on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, during construction work in Be’er Ora, near Eilat.”

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Image by Roy Talbi, National Parks Authority

“The MoEP, which conducted an assessment of the situation on Thursday afternoon, has recommended that the Eilat municipality cancel a triathlon competition scheduled for the weekend in the sections of the area that have been affected by the spill”

“Meantime, crews on the ground are pumping the oil deposits in an effort to stop the spill and to prevent the oil from entering Jordan.”

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​Image courtesy of the Israel Police

MoEP officials who arrived at the area shortly after receiving reports of the leak found that millions of liters of crude oil had already spilled, and had traveled several kilometers.

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Image by Roy Talbi, National Parks Authority

The triathlon was indeed called off later that day, to the distress of the participants who had been training for months. But that discomfort was dwarfed by the enormity of the oil spill’s effects on the Evrona Nature Reserve and the nearby communal settlements of Be’er Ora and Kibbutz Ketura.

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Image of Beer Ora, courtesy Eilot Regional Council

According to regional environmental website Green Prophet, “The Evrona nature reserve is an important part of the Jordan Rift Valley, the natural corridor that runs from the Sea of Galilee in the north, down to the Red Sea. The corridor also extends up into other countries in the region. Millions of wild birds pass through this corridor twice a year from Africa to Europe and then back again.”

Roy Talbi, the National Parks Authority ecologist for the Elat region, stated“The reserve is rich in vegetation which is concentrated mainly around the river beds, so the damage there is probably the largest. Just recently we discovered that the Dorcas gazelle population had grown and recovered after years of drought. I’m afraid this event will damage them critically.”

Ironically, the accident occurred on the eve of the 6th annual Eilat Eilot Green Energy Conference, Israel’s leading conferences on Green Energy. The Conference, which starts next week, is a major effort of the Eilat-Eilot Green Energy Initiative, a non-profit organization pushing for wider alternative-energy use.

Ketura itself is home to the Arava Power Company, a leading Israeli solar energy enterprise. Arava Power co-founder and CNN Green Pioneer Yosef Abramowitz posted on his Facebook page that “With the oil spill in the Arava, we all see that Israel should go solar-powered electric for transportation and energy.”

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Ketura image courtesy of Arava Power Company

Management of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) stated that cleanup work would continue throughout the weekend.

EAPC estimates that rehabilitation of the Evrona nature reserve “will take many months.” The reserve is one of the most important ones in the Arava region; it is home to the northernmost Egyptian Doum palm trees in the world and to an extensive deer population. The MoEP stated that “an initial inspection found that the trees are not in danger at this point.”

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Images (L) Ester Inbar, Wikipedia; (R) Roy Talbi, National Parks Authority

The Ministry’s announced that its Green Police have established a special investigation team that will work with other agencies and authorities to determine whether the spill could have been prevented and to review how it is being treated.