No petrol shortage predicted

2007-11-22 00:00

Although there is no chance of petrol shortages in either Durban or Pietermaritzburg, damage at the Engen oil refinery could strain downstream infrastructure and service stations inland could run dry over the festive season.

However, this is a worst case scenario and the fire itself will not cause any shortages in the short term, refinery general manager Willem Oosthuizen said yesterday. This is despite the fact that only one of South Africa's oil refineries, Chevron in Cape Town, is running at full capacity. This refinery only meets Cape Town's needs.

The refinery in Secunda has reported problems, the Sapref refinery in Prospecton is running at 60% capacity and Natref (Sasolburg) is in the midst of a planned shutdown.

The Engen refinery, which was on a go-slow while staff and emergency services struggled to put out a blaze in a storage tank that resulted from a lightning strike on Monday night, was back to full production by yesterday.

Oosthuizen said the problem will come with transportation of fuel rather than production. However, he is confident that a plan put in place by the oil industry to manage increased demand over the holiday season will hold.

However, the nine-metre-high fuel tank itself continues to smoulder, creating clouds of black smoke that are being blown towards Merebank. This, said Oosthuizen, is a real concern.

He said the refinery was making plans to extinguish the fire completely. However, there are risks involved. As predicted, the fire itself burnt itself out late on Tuesday night, but the tank lid dropped, trapping some liquid caught beneath it. This continues to smoulder.

The majority of the fuel that could be salvaged on Tuesday morning was pumped from beneath the fire in the tank to nearby storage facilities.

Oosthuizen said they were investigating pumping water under the tank lid to lift the smouldering petrol, which is lighter than water, to the surface. It could then be extinguished. Another suggestion was to inject steam through a pipe. He said this is unlikely to be enacted as it could cause an “explosive situation”.

If the plans do not work, the fire could smoulder for another two days.

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