Paula Bennett and Judith Collins lament Auckland Airport jet fuel crisis

MORNING REPORT/RNZ

Energy minister Judith Collins says it's likely to be 10 days before Auckland airport's jet fuel supply line is repaired.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett accepts that a mistake by a digger driver which caused widespread disruption to the nation's aviation industry is "embarrassing".

Energy Minister Judith Collins estimates the incident could cost Auckland "millions and millions of dollars".

On Thursday, it was revealed that a digger had once struck a key fuel pipe near Marsden Point in Northland, which by Sunday had caused a major leak that starved Auckland Airport of its main jet fuel supply.

The leak is believed to have occurred around 8km south of Marsden Point Oil Refinery.
STEPHEN RUSSELL/STUFF

The leak is believed to have occurred around 8km south of Marsden Point Oil Refinery.

Bennett agreed with RNZ host Guyon Espiner on Monday when he suggested that the "embarrassing" episode had cut New Zealand off from the rest of the world.

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Thousands of passengers have already been stranded by the fuel shortage, and Air New Zealand believes around 2,000 people a day will be affected for the next two weeks as the aviation network attempts to recover.

Nicole Lawton/Stuff.co.nz

Disgruntled passengers of a Virgin Airways flight to Samoa were left wondering what to do after their flight was cancelled due to a jet fuel shortage.

Bennett told RNZ that this is a rare occurrence and hasn't happened for 30 years. She added that she doesn't expect it to happen again.

Bennett said Air New Zealand has informed her that they "feel comfortable" of avoiding huge disruption.

She added that there's now a "10-day but moving timeline" of when the pipeline will be fixed.

Air New Zealand expects 2,000 passengers a day may be affected for the next two weeks.
NICOLE LAWTON/STUFF

Air New Zealand expects 2,000 passengers a day may be affected for the next two weeks.

Prime Minister Bill English said that a contingency for this type of incident had been previously been looked into but wasn't economically viable.

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"There have 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 to be passed onto consumers.

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

Deputy PM Paula Bennett says the incident has "cut NZ off from the rest of the world".
NICOLE LAWTON/STUFF

Deputy PM Paula Bennett says the incident has "cut NZ off from the rest of the world".

"In the meantime, the oil companies, the airlines, the agencies, are all working together, we've offered all the support, any support that they need, they haven't actually made any requests yet," English added.

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Collins says the government doesn't own the pipeline or the storage facilities involved, which are privately owned, but has offered to help their recovery efforts.

As to how much it would cost the Auckland economy, Collins said she couldn't say but it's a "big imposition" and that could cost millions and millions of dollars.

Collins said she didn't know who the company was who had the digger that would have caused this damage.

She said it could have happened months or even years ago and the insulation of the pipe was affected by the digging,  suggesting that the pipe could have corroded.

She says she initially received a note on Thursday afternoon saying a limited amount of fuel had been lost and that there was no anticipated effect for Auckland.

By late Saturday afternoon that had changed to, "now there is actually a problem that's not quite as easily remedied as first thought".

She said the big fuel companies expect to be able to deliver fuel into the airport but it's likely to be a problem for 10 days.

She said over the years there has been various studies done over a possible back-up but over 30 years there's never been a problem and a cost to doing that would all be passed onto consumers.

The government has offered any help the companies involved. The military has fuel trucks that can be used to keep fuel coming into New Zealand so that's one option that's being looked at.

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 - Stuff

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