Digger hit set up pipeline to rupture
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.