Pipeline hit by defects

2015-01-14 00:00

THE ruptured diesel pipeline that gushed 200 000 litres of fuel into a posh Hillcrest Estate was plagued by inherent defects.

The antiquated Durban-Johannesburg Pipeline (DJP) was set to be ­decommissioned this year.

The clean-up operation in the wake of the environmental disaster is expected to stretch over months and comes with a multi-million rand bill.

The Witness can reveal that Transnet first discovered “inherent defects” in the steel used to construct the pipeline in 2003.

Despite the accident and the potential for more, Transnet has extended the operating life of the outmoded fuel line, which runs beneath homes and farms in Pietermaritzburg and the ­Midlands, well into 2016.

The extension, vital to provide a steady flow of fuel inland to the country’s economic hub, is due to the delayed completion of the New Multi Product Pipeline (NMPP), which comes with a price tag of R23,4 billion.

According to an internal Transnet Pipelines Project report dated February 8, 2012, chief executive Charl Moller expands on the need for the new pipeline, citing that supply inland cannot be interrupted.

“A need is the replacement of the oldest TPL petroleum pipeline, the Durban-Johannesburg Pipeline (DJP), commissioned in 1965, because of [an] inherent defect in pre-1970 steels which was first mooted in 2003.”

In moving to allay fears of further environmental disasters, and hiccups in supplying precious fuel inland, Transnet spokesperson Saret Knoetze said the inherent defects in the line did not make it dangerous.

“… Nor does it make the pipeline ­inoperable. There are clearly defined tolerable operating design parameters. In addition we conduct various pipeline surveys and perform restoration if required,” she said.

It remains unclear why the pipeline, which Knoetze insists was operated within parameters of its design, sheared along a weld-seam.

“The investigation has not been ­concluded as the pipe has been sent for testing. The results of the testing will then be analysed and factored into the pipeline maintenance plan if required. The pipeline was operating at 8 800 kPA at the time of the incident, well below its design pressure. Sections of the DJP will be decommissioned post March 2016.

“Transnet Pipelines mitigates risks of incidents by ensuring that the ­pipeline is operated and maintained in accordance with international standards. The rehabilitation of the area is continuing. We are currently removing the contaminated soil and continuously conducting air quality monitoring to ensure that it is within acceptable occupational limits,” she added.

• jeff.wicks@witness.co.za

Transnet ‘negligent’

Ward councillor Rick Crouch ­bemoaned Transnet’s handling of the spill.

“Transnet is not only liable in this matter but negligent. How was it that if a report questioned the quality of the steel in the pipes used that a full inspection was not made, especially since this pipeline is way past its sell-by date,” he asked.

“It is especially concerning since I questioned the safety of the pipeline more than a year ago and was assured that it was absolutely safe and regular inspections are conducted,” Crouch added.

Affected homeowners had been neglected by Transnet in their haste to repair the pipeline. “They have received no updates. All they have been given is coffee and an ioniser to mask the odour, an offer to pay for a week at a B&B and, oh yes, go see the doctor and we will pay for the visit.”

Disaster ‘was avoidable’

Head od environmental advocacy group Groundwork Bobby Peek said that this disaster could have been averted with better management.

“If they [Transnet] had conducted surveys and their monitoring and maintenance plan was credible, this would not have happened. Considering they knew since 2003 that the material was questionable, one of the best management options they could have used was to operate the pipeline at a lower pressure, therefore putting less strain on the metal.

“The way we are going to get around pipeline and fuel leakages is by not extending the N3 freeway for more road traffic but rather by spending more money on developing a railway system that requires less fossil fuels.

“Considering the racist approach the democratic government has taken by re-routing the new pipeline through a black area, namely Umbumbulu, shows the severely low level of government and corporate responsibility that ultimately goes against the Constitution,” Peek added.

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