Christchurch fuel supply vulnerable

The country's roading authority is ruling out the possibility of allowing fuel tankers to use the Lyttelton tunnel on a permanent basis despite concerns over the vulnerability of Christchurch's fuel supply chain.

BP New Zealand and Z Energy say the quakes have highlighted the vulnerability of the supply chain into Christchurch and are pushing to be allowed to transport fuel through the 1.9km Lyttelton road tunnel permanently.

Before the quakes most fuel coming into Christchurch arrived through the Port of Lyttelton and was then either taken by tanker across Evans Pass or piped through Mobil's pipeline, which runs from Lyttelton to Woolston.

But the Mobil pipeline, which was damaged in the quakes and temporarily unusable, can only carry certain grades of fuel and Evans Pass is still closed and requires at least $30 million of work to bring it back to pre-quake standard.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has been allowing the fuel companies to take fuel through the Lyttelton tunnel at night, under strict condit ions, but has signalled that temporary arrangement will end when Evans Pass reopens.

BP's national terminal manager, Warren Bolger, told Christchurch City councillors yesterday that fuel companies would be reluctant to use Evans Pass once it was reopened because it was difficult to navigate and an undesirable route.

"There is no appetite for putting trucks across that sort of road," Bolger said.

Trucks could not use Dyers Pass because it was too steep and Gebbies Pass was also problematic because it had no shoulder and lots of tight bends.

Bolger said the fuel companies' clear preference was to continue to use the Lyttelton road tunnel. If they could get agreement from the authorities to do that, they would be willing to contribute towards the cost of any necessary upgrade work.

Asked by a councillor whether consideration had been given to installing another pipeline, Bolger said the issue had been explored some 10 years ago but it would be very expensive. Geotechnical testing done at the time also suggested there was a 30 per cent risk of the pipe failing.

"It didn't fly . . . . the risk of failure was considered too high."

Bolger said the option of using the rail tunnel to transport fuel from Lyttelton to the city had also been explored, but it was not favoured by the fuel companies as it would require extra loading and unloading and would result in too much loss.

The NZ Transport Agency last night ruled out, for safety reasons, the possibility of allowing tankers to continue using the tunnel once Evans Pass was reopened.

Agency southern regional manager Jim Harland said there was no fire-fighting capacity in the tunnel and that simply made it too risky for other vehicles to be in the tunnel at the same time as fuel tankers. Once access over Evans Pass was reinstated, it was intended hazardous goods vehicles would no longer be able to access Lyttelton through the tunnel.

The Press