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By Willow Aliento
September 19, 2017
When can one excavator in the wrong place cause international aviation chaos?
New Zealanders know the answer this week, with the accidental rupturing of the main pipeline for aviation fuel, petrol and diesel into Auckland.
Reportedly, it was an excavator working on farmland through which Refining New Zealand’s Marsden to Wiri pipeline passes that caused a break in the pipeline.
As a result, the pipeline had to be shut down.
The outcome has been cancellations of flights that have grounded around 2000 people, and a requirement for international carriers to change routes to refuel at airports in locations including Australia and the Pacific Islands.
Air New Zealand said all airlines operating into and out of Auckland Airport are affected, as the airport has had to impose a limit on jet fuel uplifts of 30 percent of normal usage.
Air New Zealand Chief Operations Integrity & Standards Officer Captain David Morgan said the airline is “extremely disappointed” with the infrastructure failure.
Aviation is a critical transport industry and the lifeblood for tourism, he said.
New Zealand’s Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins said work is underway to repair the pipeline and promised government assistance if it is needed.
Other companies affected by the rupture include Mobil, BP and Z Energy, which use the pipeline to supply petrol and diesel fuels to Auckland.
While there are some existing fuel stocks in Auckland, Ms Collins said additional supplies are being transported by truck from the refinery, and from a terminal at Mt Maunganui.
“The fuel companies are confident that supply of these fuels will be maintained and it is unlikely that motorists will be inconvenienced,” she said.
“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.”
Infrastructure New Zealand has weighed in on the accident, highlighting the value digital technologies could have in preventing a similar event in future.
“The rupturing of the Marsden to Wiri oil pipeline has identified issues in resilience planning which should be resolvable without building another pipeline,” Stephen Selwood, Chief Executive of Infrastructure New Zealand, said.
“Technology is a vital part of the solution. 3D mapping tools and Building Information Modelling (BIM) can be used to maintain a detailed understanding of where assets are located. Better systems for obtaining, holding and accessing this information are required.”
The major supply problems suggest contingency planning has been “inadequate”.
Other aspects of resilience planning he highlighted include increasing fuel storage capacity, and ensuring fuels can be transported by road when necessary.
NZ also needs to have enough vehicles and drivers to respond to this kind of urgent need, he said.
“There may also be opportunities to strengthen existing assets to make them less vulnerable to disruption. Recent reporting suggests signage may have been poor near where the damage to the pipeline occurred. Keeping infrastructure corridors well-maintained is a priority and should be monitored.”
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