Fuel crisis: Neighbours detail swamp kauri mining at leak siteby Lois Williams
Refining New Zealand believes its pipeline was scraped by a digger some time ago, at Ruakaka, leading to corrosion that caused it to fail last Thursday.
The break forced the closure of the pipeline, which carries fuel from Marsden Point in Whangarei to Wiri in Auckland, upsetting the air travel plans of thousands. It caused two tanker loads of jet fuel to spill into a nearby culvert and surrounding soil.
Petrol and diesel supplies have also been affected, but Auckland's mayor says he's been assured vehicle fuel will not run out.
A neighbouring landowner said the property in question was dug over for swamp kauri just a few years back and massive trees buried metres deep had been pulled out of the ground.
"Some of these logs were huge. Probably some of the biggest logs I've seen pulled out of a swamp in recent times," the man said.
A veteran of the swamp kauri industry, Milton Randell, had reported seeing a kauri dig in progress near Ruakaka last Wednesday, the day before the pipe broke, at what he later assumed was the site of the break. But Mr Randell told RNZ that on reflection, the dig he spotted as he drove to Waipu may not have been at the pipeline site.
RNZ has confirmed that the earth around the pipeline was undisturbed when the refinery discovered the break on Thursday.
'Hello, we've got a problem here'
Jimmy Davis, a retired farmer whose house overlooks the pipeline site, said there were no diggers or activity at the property until Thursday when neighbours were alerted by the reek of jet fuel.
"Actually I smelled it first, and then they [the refinery] started taking corrective action and suddenly there was a lot of traffic around, and I thought, 'Hello, we've got a problem here,'" he said.
The neighbour who had watched the ancient kauri being extracted some time ago, who asked not to be named, is also an experienced digger driver.
He said an operator would know if he had hit something underground, but it might not have been a machine that did the damage.
The man said the swamp kauri diggers who excavated the property two to three years ago were operating at some distance from the pipeline easement, which was clearly marked.
But he said it might have been a kauri buried beneath the pipe that scraped it as it was pulled from the ground.
"I know myself when I'm digging drains, and you strike a big tree root, you give it a pull, and hello, you're pulling the ground up three metres away from where you're working.
"So it's not beyond the realms of possibility - because they were big diggers that they were using - that they could have hooked into the heads of one of those trees and disturbed the pipe."
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