Fuel pipeline and Plan B

Should we have a ‘Plan B’ for everything? Some have said we should have had a backup to a bust fuel pipeline.

This has caused major disruption at Auckland Airport in particular.

Stuff:  Possibility of prosecution after leak closes crucial jet fuel pipeline

The Northland Regional Council said it was investigating the circumstances that led up to a fuel pipe line from a Northland refinery being temporarily shut down.

The 168-kilometre 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, when refinery workers noticed a drop in pressure.  A jet fuel leak was located on a rural property 8km south of the refinery later that afternoon.

Refining New Zealand spokesman Greg McNeill said on Monday initial investigations showed a digger “scraped” and “cut” the pipe.

Prime Minister Bill English said that a contingency for this type of incident had been previously been looked into but wasn’t economically viable.

“There have been a couple of studies done that looked at different alternatives for backing up the current infrastructure, and the decisions were made that the investment that would be required to double up would be too much to be passed onto consumers.

“But I expect that after this that they’ll go back and have another look at it.”

Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said some 27 domestic and international flights were cancelled over the weekend, while others travelled via other airports to refuel.

McNeill said they believed it would be fixed between September 24-26.

“Getting the product down to Wiri where it is stored is the key to us, we’re working toward a definite timeline,” he said.

Once the jet fuel is back at Wiri it will undergo about 30 hours of processing before it is certified and taken on to the airport.

It happened during an election campaign so it is more political than usual: Government knew of jet fuel supply concerns: Labour party

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says the Government has known for years there were serious risks to the supply of fuel to Auckland International Airport.

In a statement this morning, Ardern says Air New Zealand raised the issue about additional jet fuel supply storage in 2012 but the Government instead set up a raft of “mishmash of minor initiatives”.

It goes back further than that – the Clark led Government also considered pipeline options in 2005.

But the fuel supply and pipeline are privately owned.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett was grilled by Guyon Espiner on Morning Report over a cabinet paper from 2012 in which officials advised then Minister of Energy and Resources Simon Bridges of the serious impact of a shutdown.

“It’s not owned by the Government, it’s owned by the fuel companies and it is their job to get their product to the source where it’s needed.

“I’m sure that we will now look at that and make sure we’ve got it all lined up properly …there’s other alternatives to a second line, and there might be things like extra storage needed in Auckland that goes beyond the eight days.”

Stuff Editorial: Burst pipe shows importance of having a plan B

There is a sense of deja vu in all this. New Zealand has seen before how failures in small but critical parts of its infrastructure can lead to disproportionate disruption.

In 1998, central Auckland suffered a five-week power cut after four electricity cables failed. The outage started with one old and obsolete cable, which triggered another, and then two more.

In 2011, a landslide caused a leak in the Maui gas pipeline north from Taranaki. It was fixed within six days, but the failure is estimated to have cost the economy $200 million.

The interdependence of some of the country’s networks was demonstrated in 2012, when a power cut in a Wellington control centre crippled the entire Auckland railway network.

We haven’t even begun to consider massive disruption caused by large earthquakes, the continued closure of the Manawatu Gorge, or damage caused by weather events – such as the failure of stopbanks protecting Edgecumbe – which are likely to become more frequent.

For all the talk about how infrastructure development fuels national growth, sometimes not enough care is taken to protect the assets that we have, even when the risks are known. Lip service is given to building resilience, but the truth is this is expensive.

Yes, expensive.

The vulnerability of the 30-year-old Marsden Point to Auckland pipeline was highlighted in a report by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment in 2012. It seems nothing was done about it.

I don’t know if nothing was done, but a new pipeline wasn’t installed, a tanker ship wasn’t put on permanent standby, the storage tank capacity at Wiri wasn’t doubled, the 170km of pipeline wasn’t continuously patrolled.

Winston Peters didn’t even suggest moving Auckland Airport to Whangarei.

How important, or feasible, is it to have back up plans for everything?

They could have a second pipeline from Marsden Point to Wiri – that would have to follow an entirely different route to be safe.

Auckland could have stand by motorways in cash a crash disrupts traffic.

They could re-introduce rail ferries from Wellington to Lyttleton in case there’s another Kaikoura earthquake – but what if the next earthquake is in Wellington?

We could all have two cars and two houses and two jobs, just in case.

The Government could make us have a plan B for everything.

Or we could have infrastructure that makes economic and practical sense, and risk the occasional bit of disruption.

Marsden-Auckland fuel pipeline

A fuel pipeline between Marsden Point and Auckland has been broken, causing havoc at Auckland Airport. The pipeline is the only source of jet fuel from the airport. I have no idea why they can’t truck fuel to the airport.

I first heard about this today but the break happened on Thursday – NZH: Couple evacuated after aviation gas leak on Refining NZ pipeline

A Northland couple has been evacuated from their home following the discovery of a leak of jet fuel on a section of the Refinery Auckland pipeline near Ruakaka.

Refining NZ spokesman Greg McNeill said a pressure drop on the Refinery to Auckland multi-product pipeline was detected at 2.30pm on Thursday.

The leak was discovered about 8km south of the refinery at Marsden Point near Ruakaka.

“We’ve isolated and contained the leak and our crew is busy carrying out a recovery and repair operation,” Mr Mc Neill said.

A team of firefighters normally based at Refining NZ had gone to the scene and remained on a cordon.

“We’re working with the oil companies to ensure that fuel supplies aren’t unduly impacted,” he said.

Crews were at the scene today but were still trying to discover what had caused the pipe to leak and how much gas had been leaked.

The refinery was continuing to operate while repairs were being carried out and it was not expected the incident would have a significant financial impact on the company.

Northern Advocate on Saturday: Cause of jet fuel leak not known yet

Mr McNeill said it was the first leak he had heard of on the section from Marsden Pt to Wellsford and leaks were not common at all.

Yesterday crews were at the scene off Marsden Pt Rd and were hoping to start digging to expose the leak. Until they could pinpoint the leak they were unable to say what had caused it, Mr McNeill said. It was unclear just how much fuel had leaked.

“We won’t know exactly what we are dealing with until we expose the pipe and see the damage.”

NZH today: Auckland Airport fuel crisis: 23 flights cancelled, more likely

All travel out of Auckland Airport looks likely to be disrupted for several days after a digger lifting swamp kauri on a farm at Ruakaka, south of Whangarei, sliced through the airport’s sole supply of jet fuel from the Marsden Point refinery.

Airport spokesman Simon Lambourne said 23 flights have been cancelled in the past 24 hours.

NZ Refining spokesman Greg McNeill said the pipeline was likely to be shut down for several days, with two engineers flying in from Canada tomorrow.

Petrol and diesel can be trucked into Auckland by tanker, but the airport depends entirely on the pipeline and is now running out of stored supplies of aviation fuel.

McNeill confirmed that the pipeline was cut by “external damage” but was unable to confirm that a digger was trying to lift a kauri log.

Refining NZ spokesman Greg McNeill said the issue began on Thursday when a leak was spotted in the pipeline that supplies aviation fuel from Marsden Point to Wiri, South Auckland, near the airport.

The 170km pipeline is constantly monitored and on Thursday a drop in pressure was noticed.

A helicopter was put up to survey the pipeline and the leak was identified on farmland at Ruakaka, about 8km from the Marsden Point refinery.

From Judith Collins, Minister of Energy and Resources: Temporary disruption to Marsden Point pipeline

Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins has spoken to Refining NZ and the heads of fuel companies affected by the disruption to the Marsden Point pipeline to Auckland and offered Government support if it is required.

A leak was discovered in a section of the pipeline which runs between the refinery and the storage depot at Wiri, and work is underway to repair it.

“I have spoken to Sjoerd Post, chief executive of Refining NZ, which owns the pipeline, as well as Mobil, BP and Z Energy, which all use the pipeline to supply fuel to Auckland.

“Refining NZ is doing all it can to repair the pipeline and industry is working to minimise any inconvenience to customers and the public.

“Refining NZ has all the expert technical assistance resources it needs, including international expertise. I have also offered them, and the companies supplying fuel, Government assistance, if we are needed.

“There are fuel stocks on hand in Auckland and additional stocks of petrol and diesel are being trucked in directly from the refinery, and from the terminal in Mt Maunganui. The fuel companies are confident that supply of these fuels will be maintained and it is unlikely that motorists will be inconvenienced.

“The pipeline is the only source of jet fuel for Auckland Airport, so precautions have been taken to restrict the amount of fuel being used. Airlines have options to manage their operations and will be looking to minimise any inconvenience for travellers. They will keep their customers informed of any changes to flight schedules, as required.

This is quite embarrassing for Auckland Airport, potentially for the Government who bizarrely seem to be lining up for photo ops…


…and especially for the digger driver who cut the line.