15 Jul 2015

Oil tanks 'pose risk' to Lyttelton residents

10:39 am on 15 July 2015

Homes and businesses in Lyttelton could be at risk from fuel tanks at the Christchurch port, oil companies say.

The tank farm at the port of Lyttelton.

Tank farms seen from Brittan Tce. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The threat has been identified by the companies that own the tanks and is based on a devastating fire at a tank farm in England in 2005, where flames spread far beyond the confines of the oil depot.

The oil companies say the risk raises questions about plans to build a cruise ship terminal nearby.

BP, Mobil and Z Energy voiced their concerns as part of a submission on the Canterbury Regional Council's draft Lyttelton Port Recovery Plan, which is looking at what sort of development is appropriate in the area.

The companies are calling for a 250m exclusion zone around the tank farm, which calls into question the safety of about 30 homes.

Brian Heslop rents a home within the exclusion zone with his partner and four children.

"It's not something we try to think about too much. I would like them not to be there and that they moved somewhere that wasn't a residential area."

Mr Heslop and his family were amongst those evacuated last year when a landslide created a leak in a nearby fuel tank. He said there was no way he would buy a house in the area.

"I mean it's supposed to be safe and that's already happened. There wasn't supposed to be a leak because of the containment bunds and then there was a leak."

Kirsten Disse, who does own a house within the proposed exclusion zone, said the onus was on the oil companies to ensure their tanks were safe.

"I'd like to see them built to a safe standard. If it was found to be really dangerous that would be bad for us and the value of our house."

Lyttelton oil tank exclusion zone resident Kirsten Disse

Lyttelton oil tank exclusion zone resident Kirsten Disse Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Lyttelton Mount Herbert Community Board chairperson Paula Smith said it was good that lessons were being learned from the Buncefield fire in England a decade ago. It was the biggest fire in post-war Europe and 43 people were injured.

"Previously it had been assumed that if a tank caught fire, it just burned on the spot. But what happened at Buncefield was a huge gas cloud was created and the disaster was much more widespread.

"So around the world the risk associated with this kind of facility has been reviewed in the light of that accident."

The panel hearing submissions on the Lyttelton Plan has recommended Christchurch City Council acts with "urgency" in carrying out a risk assessment of the tank farm.

Lyttelton ward councillor Andrew Turner said work on this would start on Friday.

"My understanding is the way this affects planning rules would affect new developments rather than existing land use. But again we'll need to get some advice on that. Clearly there were some concerns around the incident that happened last year."

The panel said the risk posed by the fuel tanks created "considerable uncertainty" around the future of a proposed cruise ship terminal - part of a $1 billion redevelopment of the port, including hospitality and retail space, which were to be built next to the oil depot.

Mr Turner said the terminal was desperately needed as no cruise ships had visited the city since the earthquakes put large parts of the port out of action.

"We've said for a long time we need to get the cruise ships back into Lyttelton, because of the effect that those cruise ships have on the regional economy and also the way the cruise industry looks at the South Island as a destination."

He said it was unfortunate the risk was not identified earlier, before earthquake recovery plans were developed and the port confirmed its extension plans.

The Lyttelton Port Company said in statement it was still assessing the panel's recommendations and their implications.

The Lyttelton oil tank that leaked after being hit by a landslide.

The Lyttelton oil tank that leaked after being hit by a landslide sits empty. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs