An explosion rocked a natural gas terminal near Egypt’s border with Israel this morning sending flames shooting into the air and forcing the shutdown of the country’s export pipeline, said security officials. The pipeline supplies gas to Israel and Jordan.
“An unknown armed gang attacked the gas pipeline,” a security source told Reuters, adding that the flow of gas to Israel and Jordan had been hit.
“Authorities closed the main source of gas supplying the pipeline and are working to extinguish the fire,” the source said, adding there was a tower of flame at the scene.
Egyptian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, did not say if explosion was due to sabotage or an accident.
It was the second attack in the past month on the al-Sabil terminal near the town of El-Arish just 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the border with Israel. On March 27 gunmen planted explosives at the terminal, which failed to detonate.
The valves controlling the flow of gas from the main terminal in Port Said on the Mediterranean coast were shut down to stifle the flames, which sent residents scurrying from their homes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Speaking to Army Radio on Wednesday, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau warned that Israel “should be prepared for a situation where gas flow from Egypt would stop.”
In response to the pipeline explosion, the Israel Electric Company said in a statement that it would use all available resources to ensure reliable service, “including the use of alternate fuels approved by the National Infrastructure Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry.”
An earlier attack on the same pipeline, located south of the North Sinai town of el-Arish, was staged on Feb. 5 during an 18-day-uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power on Feb. 11.
Security forces often clash with the Bedouin tribesmen in the Sinai Peninsula, who complain of being neglected and oppressed by the central government. Tribesmen also attempted to sabotage the pipeline in July 2010.
On Tuesday, the state news agency reported that the main highway in the area was temporarily closed by protesting families of detainees before the army reopened it.
Egypt exports gas to Israel, Jordan and Syria, though lately the deals have come under attack because of the low price at which the gas is sold.
On Saturday, Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered former Energy Minister Sameh Fahmy and six other officials to stand trial on charges of squandering public funds related to the natural gas deal with Israel.
The decision, part of a probe on graft during the 30-year-rule of Mubarak, said the deal in question caused Egypt losses worth more than 714 million dollars and enabled a local businessman to make financial profits.
Israel gets 40 percent of its natural gas from Egypt, a deal built on their landmark 1979 peace accord.
Jordan depends on Egyptian gas to generate 80 percent of its electricity. The halt to the flow would force the country to rely on more expensive diesel fuel to keep the country’s power plants running.
Egypt has potential natural gas reserves of 62 trillion cubic feet (1.7 trillion cubic meters), the 18th largest in the world.