Dig­ger hit set up pipe­line to rup­ture

The New Zealand Herald - - NEWS - — David Fisher, Si­mon Collins

An ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Mars­den Point oil re­fin­ery has found a dig­ger driver search­ing for swamp kauri caused the crit­i­cal dam­age to the jet fuel pipe­line months ago.

When the pipe­line burst on Thurs­day, the re­sponse in­cluded find­ing out how the dam­age was caused.

A source fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion said re­fin­ery bosses found a swamp kauri hunter had been work­ing in the same area as the dam­aged pipe around three months ear­lier. In his ef­forts to re­move a log, the dig­ger struck the fuel line.

It did not rup­ture but laid the seed for the fail­ure that would fol­low.

While the route of the pipe­line is clearly marked with warn­ing signs, the source said signs clos­est to where the pipe­line rup­tured were over­grown and could not be clearly seen.

The dig­ger driver moved on and months passed un­til Thurs­day, when re­fin­ery bosses in­creased the pres­sure in the pipe­line which forces jet fuel to Auck­land.

The in­crease was too much and the dam­aged sec­tion rup­tured, spew­ing fuel into a peat swamp.

Re­fin­ing NZ spokesman Greg McNeill said that the pipe­line burst on Thurs­day as a re­sult of “ex­ter­nal dam­age” in a peat swamp.

He could not con­firm the cause of when the dam­age hap­pened but said ex­ca­va­tion teams had found kauri near the pipe. “There was swamp kauri on the site.”

Swamp kauri ex­trac­tion is con­trolled by lo­cal coun­cils.

Whangarei Mayor Sh­eryl Mai said she had not been briefed on the Ruakaka work but would be ask­ing ques­tions.

“The Re­fin­ing Com­pany is the life­line for all of our fuel and clearly this is a ma­jor dis­rup­tion, so I will be ask­ing some ques­tions of our staff to clar­ify . . . what went wrong.”

A re­view of NZ oil se­cu­rity for the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment recog­nised in 2012 that any cut in the pipe­line would mean “no jet sup­ply to Auck­land Air­port”.

“In the short term there are few al­ter­na­tives for jet sup­ply into Auck­land,” the re­port said cit­ing op­tions like di­vert­ing flights to other air­ports — here or over­seas — for re­fu­elling be­fore land­ing in Auck­land.

The re­port con­sid­ered op­tions in­clud­ing du­pli­cat­ing the pipe­line’s Auck­land ter­mi­nal at Wiri, but said that would cost more than $10 mil­lion a year and the prob­a­bil­ity of a short­term dis­rup­tion to the pipe­line was put at only 0.5 to 1 per cent a year, or once every 100 to 200 years.

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