18 Sep 2017

Govt 'short-sighted' to ignore officials over pipeline

6:28 pm on 18 September 2017

There are "serious questions" over why the government did not act when it was first made aware of the risks to jet fuel supply in Auckland five years ago, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says.

Jacinda Ardern on a visit to her hometown of Morrinsville. 10 August 2017.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Thousands of air travellers are facing delays or cancellations after a fuel pipeline to Auckland was ruptured in Northland on Thursday.

"There are serious questions the government must answer over how prepared it was for the rupture of the pipeline which is such a vital piece of infrastructure," Ms Ardern said.

"The government has known for years that there were risks to the security of supply of fuel into Auckland, and particularly jet fuel to Auckland Airport.

"And they have only got worse as the city grows and air traffic expands," Ms Ardern said.

In a Cabinet paper from 2012, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials advised the Minister of Energy and Resources Simon Bridges that another storage terminal was needed to improve the resilience of Auckland's fuel supply chain.

Ms Ardern said the government ignored the previous advice from 2012 but the former Labour government did too.

The site of the pipeline leak.

The site of the pipeline leak. Photo: Refining NZ

They suggest it should be installed in west Auckland, but it would have an estimated upfront cost of $57m.

Ms Ardern said Cabinet instead agreed to a mishmash of minor initiatives.

"Among them; an oil contingency handbook, a working group of industry and officials to look at fuel security issues, allowing higher weight trucks to travel on roads, and a review of information on oil stocks.

"None of this cost the government anything.

"This was a totally short-sighted response," Ms Ardern said.

A 2005 report commissioned by the then Ministry for Economic Development identified the single pipe from Marsden Point to Auckland as an issue.

National Party leader Bill English said the original advice would be revisited.

"There's been a couple of studies done that looked at different alternatives for backing up the current infrastructure and the decisions were made that the investment that would be required to double-up would be too much and would be passed onto consumers.

"But I would expect that after this, they'll go back and have a look at it."

Mr English said airlines and government organisations were working together to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible.

Greens leader James Shaw said the government's failure to provide critical infrastructure was "negligent".

"The government does have hand in ensuring that critical infrastructure is protected and the risks are managed."

Up to 80,000 litres or about two tanker-loads of jet fuel was spilled when the pipeline ruptured near Ruakaka on Thursday but Refining NZ said most of it had been cleaned up and the contaminated soil removed.

Mr Shaw said the Northland Regional Council and Refining NZ must prove there had been no environmental damage.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the crisis showed the importance of a railway line between Marsden Point and Auckland and he dismissed Bill English's suggestions that a second fuel pipeline or more storage might be needed.

"A second pipeline would be the silliest idea I've ever heard, in fact you can build a whole railway line for that."

Building a second storage site so close to the airport "in these days of terrorism" would be inadvisable for security reasons, he said.

Mr Peters said the public needed to know how the pipeline was damaged.

"How come signs were not put up? All we are getting from the government on this at the moment is fluff."

No caption

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters Photo: RNZ

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett told Morning Report it was not up to just up to the government to have a contingency plan in place.

She said the pipeline was privately owned and Refinery NZ should have had a better contingency plan.

Energy Minister Judith Collins told the programme there were questions as to how a digger was able to operate so close to the pipeline that it was able to damage it.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs