Burst pipeline failed before

2014-12-30 00:00

THE high-pressure diesel pipeline that burst and spilled over 200 000 litres of noxious fuel into a posh housing estate in Hillcrest last week has failed before — with a similar environmental accident 16 years ago.

The devastating petro-chemical ­pipeline rupture roused bewildered residents from their beds on the eve of Christmas, with diesel fuel surging from the burst underground pipeline.

As the clean-up operation continues, pipeline operator Transnet has moved to downplay the impact of the environmental incident, despite warnings from ­environmentalists of a clear danger for residents if not evacuated from the site.

The Witness can reveal, through a well-placed source from within the ranks of Transnet, that a weakened portion of the pipeline had succumbed to internal ­pressures and burst.

The source, who could not be named for fear of retribution, said that the ­subterranean pipeline had ruptured along a weld seam.

“The underground pipe had burst along a weld line which had given way. Transnet will say that they operate the pipeline under a pressure that is under that design threshold, but if that is the case, then how could there be a rupture,” he questioned.

He revealed that the same pipeline had ruptured in 1998.

“This is not the first time this has ­happened. Within close proximity to the previous rupture site, the pipe had burst and they were warned of operating the line at high pressure. History repeats ­itself,” he said.

The impact of toxic fuel leaching into gardens and adjacent farmland will be felt for years to come, with costly ­clean-up operations expected to be­ ­pushed into the millions.

Transnet spokesperson Saret Knoetze confirmed that the pipe had burst along the weld line, even though the pressure of the line had been within its design threshold.

“The cause of the incident is under ­investigation and the split is 700 mm. The pipeline is operated well below its design pressure and we also use drag-reducing agents to further reduce the ­pressure,” she said.

She evaded questions surrounding the 1998 fuel spill, which had not been answered at the time of going to press.

The chemical spill mirrors a similar ­incident on a Mooi River dairy farm in September 2013.

Over a year, after 300 000 litres of noxious petrol surged into a low-lying valley, hazardous material clean-up crews continue to excavate the large tract of land. Their toil, long after the spill, will foreshadow what lies ahead for the ­handful of Hillcrest home-owners ­affected by the latest spill.

The pipe is one of a lattice-work between Durban and central South Africa, and moves petrol, gas and diesel from refinery infrastructure at the coast to distribution centres inland.

It had been ruptured when a worker ploughed over the line by mistake.

For three hours, thousands of litres of petrol gushed from the broken conduit and spread across an area the size of a rugby field before the flow was finally stemmed.

The fuel, enough to fill the tanks of nearly 5 000 cars, had a value of R4 million.

This figure is expected to be dwarfed by the cost of the clean-up operation that has yet to be completed.

Knoetze refused to divulge how the clean-up operations of both spills had cost to date, despite detailed questions being sent to her ahead of time.

More than a year after one of the province’s most devastating petro-chemical spills, hazardous material clean-up crews continue to rehabilitate a tract of dairy farmland in Mooi River.

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