Pipelines. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

The NZ pipeline disasterIt is rumored that approximately three years ago a swamp kauri mining operation led to the damage of the Ruakaka-Auckland Pipeline (RAP) in New Zealand.

Swamp kauri has 50,000 year old trees that have been perfectly preserved under swamp peat. The extraction of this wood is a tedious operation. It is believed that a digger struck the RAP.

The pipeline has failed; it began leaking and it is alleged that there was increased damage from fuel transportation engineers. The RAP runs from Marsden to Wiri in New Zealand. The single pipe delivers diesel, both premium and regular, and jet fuel. It is believed 40% of New Zealand’s fuel travels through the pipeline.

A New Zealand fuel shortage resulted. The damaged pipeline delivers jet fuel to Auckland Airport - New Zealand’s premier airport - and 80,000 litres of jet fuel had leaked into the soil before the leak was discovered.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English dusted off any ‘crisis-talk’. When speaking to Sky News, English said:

“I wouldn’t use the word crisis, what’s happened here is no threat to cars and trucks in Auckland. A bit of minor inconvenience, 60 to 70 percent of scheduled flights are operating and this problem should be dealt with by early next week.”

Flight crisis

The reality is that flights have been cancelled, with thousands of passengers affected by the fuel shortage.

And rations were put in place – many planes have departed Auckland with 30 percent of their normal fuel levels. Tankers stepped in to deliver fuel to Auckland Airport, changing their normal transport routes, being forced to cart fuel from Marsden Port to Auckland Airport.

Qantas Airlines stepped up to the plate offering to fly a 747 from Sydney to Auckland to transport 50,000 kilograms of fuel to supply Jetstar and Qantas aircraft in New Zealand. A Navy ship named the Endeavour was also appointed to assist with the fuel shortages crisis.

According to the Guardian, traffic lights were reconfigured in Auckland to ensure that fuel trucks were given right of way, ensuring that fuel arrived at its designated destinations more quickly.

Questions asked
As with any engineering emergency, the questions pertaining to whether or not a disaster could have been avoided are asked. In 2012, a report by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, outlined contingency plans for damage to the pipeline.

Air New Zealand allegedly maintained the contingency plans for a disrupted aviation fuel scenario. They realized it would cause major operational issues for the airline and so asked that the government do something about it.

Refining New Zealand
Source: Refining NZ

Refining New Zealand has been questioned about maintenance on the pipeline after the swamp kauri miners ostensibly scraped the pipeline two to three years ago. They responded that the pipe was indeed checked in 2014 and found to be in working order. The assumption is that when the diggers mined for swamp kauri one of the trees impacted the line as it was being pulled out of the ground. The trees are said to have been some of the biggest that farmers had ever seen.

The pipeline disaster came before an election in New Zealand and highlighted the infrastructural problems the country has been facing. Opposition Labour leader Jacinda Ardern blasted the ruling National Party of New Zealand saying:

“One pipeline and one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt.”

The cause of the pipeline’s damage is still being investigated, but highlights a disturbing trend of damaged pipelines, the resultant cost to an economy and their considerable environmental impact.

Works Cited
NZ Herald By: Simon Collins, David Fisher: . "Airport Fuel Crisis: Kauri Log Digger Damaged Oil Pipeline." NZ Herald. Web. 20 Sept. 2017.
Roy, Eleanor Ainge. "New Zealand Jet Fuel 'debacle' Disrupts Election Campaign and Chokes off Exports." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 Sept. 2017. Web. 20 Sept. 2017.

"Swamp Kauri Mining at Fuel Site Was Years Ago - Neighbours." Radio New Zealand. 19 Sept. 2017. Web. 20 Sept. 2017.


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