Pipe leak cuts fuel to airport
A jet fuel leak which has caused the cancellation of more than 20 flights out of Auckland Airport, could take up to two weeks to fix.
The Refinery Auckland Pipeline – which carries jet fuel, petrol and diesel directly from the oil refinery at Marsden Point in Northland to tanks in Wiri, south Auckland – has been out of action since Thursday afternoon.
Auckland Airport spokesman Simon Lambourne confirmed oil companies were limiting fuel supplies to airlines.
Refining NZ spokesman Greg McNeill said the 168-kilometre multi-supply pipeline was shut off about 2.30pm on September 14 after monitoring picked up a drop in pressure.
A leak of jet fuel was discovered 8km south of the refinery near Ruakaka, he said.
‘‘We have been doing a recovery and repair operation ... [crews are] excavating around the pipeline so we can see what damage there may be. That’s nearly complete,’’ McNeill said.
Experts would decide how best to repair the leak.
The pipeline’s customers – BP, Z Energy and Mobil – were told of the issue on Thursday, McNeill said
He said a fix could be 10 to 14 days away because of the difficult access to the site and the need to have repairs properly certified.
‘‘We have got heavy equipment in there and it is very soft peaty soil.’’
The fix would have to be certified by a Lloyds pipeline expert, he said.
It was likely Refining NZ would first operate the pipeline at 70 per cent of capacity until it knew the repairs had been successful.
The timeframe of 10 to 14 days was an estimate, he said.
‘‘The really positive thing is we have made great progress.’’
It appeared the pipeline had been damaged by a digger but McNeill could not comment on who might carry the can in terms of the financial liabilities.
But he said Refining NZ, which is listed on the NZX, had begun trying to count the cost to its own business in terms of lost revenue.
It was possible the company would make a release to the NZX today, he said: ‘‘If it is material then we will have to.’’
Lambourne said some flights would be affected and passengers should check the Auckland Airport website for updates.
On Sunday, the 14-hour Emirates flight from Auckland to Dubai would stop off at Christchurch to ‘‘top up’’ with fuel, Christchurch Airport spokeswoman Yvonne Densem said.
Passengers would remain on the plane before flying on to Dubai.
The expected arrival time in Dubai would likely extend by 2.5 hours to 7.50am, according to Emirates’ website.
Air NZ said the airline was ‘‘working through the implications for aircraft operations’’ in the coming days.
Some long-haul flights to and from Asian and North American countries would stop to refuel at some Australian and Pacific airports.
To ‘‘consolidate passenger loads’’, the airline would cancel some domestic and Australian services.
Meanwhile, domestic flights from Wellington and Christchurch would be filled to their maximum limits to ease the load in Auckland.
Jetstar spokeswoman Kate Millar said it was not yet known how many of the airline’s flights would be affected.
It was looking at possible solutions, including upgrading trans-Tasman flights from Boeing 737s to Airbus A330s, which had 100 extra seats, she said.
Up to 400,000 litres of finished product can be pumped down the pipeline, which is 25cm in diameter, every hour, Refining NZ’s website said.
Mobil Oil NZ’s manager, Andrew McNaught, said fuel companies were trying to manage the impact of the temporary shutdown.
McNaught said it was ‘‘important to note’’ the refinery was still running and fuel was still being manufactured, shipped, and trucked to consumers.
‘‘Additionally, finished fuel imports are still coming into New Zealand.’’