Fuel crisis: Neighbours detail swamp kauri mining at leak site

by Lois Williams / 20 September, 2017

The site of the pipeline leak at Ruakaka. Photo / Refining NZ

The Northland property where the Marsden-to-Wiri fuel pipeline was broken was mined for swamp kauri two to three years ago, neighbours say.

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."

Swamp kauri logs in Ruakaka mill yard. Photo / Lois Williams

Pipe last checked in 2014

Refining New Zealand believes the damage to its pipe was done by a digger some time ago because it was corroded and the original damage must have happened since 2014.

Refinery manager Sjoerd Post said that was when the refinery last ran a check on the pipe's interior, using what is known as an 'intelligent pig'.

The electronic device runs through the pipe from Marsden Point to Wiri every few years and records any sign of damage.

Mr Post said there was no evidence of any threat to the integrity of the pipe at the Ruakaka site during the last pig-run in 2014.

"It [the device] gives us back every rust spot on the line; every scratch. It tells us, this many millimetres over there, there is a pit one millimetre deep, for instance.

"Then we have a preventative maintenance programme, and we go where those pits appear, we dig the pipe up and repair those pits. So we build confidence in the system that it predicts where those pits are with total accuracy," he said.

Mr Post said the refinery had been about to run the pig through the pipe in October, ahead of schedule, because the winter was very wet, which could cause slips and earth movement.

He said the quality of Refining New Zealand's maintenance and monitoring systems had been approved by regulating authorities as world-class.

But the break in the pipe had given the company pause for thought and it would review its interior pipeline inspection schedule once the current emergency was under control, Mr Post said.

Neighbours of the property where the pipeline broke said it had changed hands since it was dug up for kauri.

Refining New Zealand and local authorities have so far deflected questions about who - if anyone - might be held liable for the damage.

Mr Post said that was something the company would investigate eventually. But at this point, he said he was focused on the hazardous business of making the pipe safe, welding in a new piece to replace the damaged section, and making sure no-one was hurt in the process.

This article was originally published by RNZ.


The art and soul of Te Papa
88235 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Arts

The art and soul of Te Papa

by Sally Blundell

Twenty years ago, Te Papa opened with little space to exhibit its national art collection. Now, it is showing off its new dedicated art space.

Read more
Does chewing more help curb your appetite?
87918 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Does chewing more help curb your appetite?

by Jennifer Bowden

Our appetite-control hormones are affected by chewing, according to some studies, whereas others show no change.

Read more
How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the crowd to queen of the stage
88396 2018-03-16 09:42:00Z Music

How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the cr…

by Vomle Springford

Auckland rapper JessB is making her mark in the male-dominated hip-hop scene with the release of her much-anticipated debut EP Bloom.

Read more
Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of military aircraft
88389 2018-03-16 07:02:40Z Politics

Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of milit…

by Craig McCulloch

Defence Minister Ron Mark is denying any inappropriate use of military aircraft after revelations he has used them to fly to and from home.

Read more
Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close to school
88387 2018-03-16 06:55:59Z Crime

Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close t…

by Eva Corlett and Sally Murphy

Corrections says it will review its processes after it was discovered 11 sex offenders were living less than a kilometre away from an Auckland school.

Read more
Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports to New Zealand
88222 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports…

by Clare de Lore

When he arrived here from Ireland in 1960, Rodney Walshe had nothing but a suit and the gift of the gab. They took him a long way.

Read more
Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming home
88378 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming hom…

by Clare de Lore

The nomadic New Zealander who’s set his sights on space travel is no longer an alien.

Read more
How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk to celebrated jeweller
88263 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z What's on

How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk …

by Mike White

The Anarchist jeweller has a remarkable show at new Te Papa gallery, Toi Art.

Read more