Criminal activity in Transnet’s multi-product pipeline between Durban and Heidelberg in the early hours of Wednesday morning resulted in a “huge” diesel spill into the environment, making it one of the largest spills to date in terms of the magnitude of the pollution caused. , Transnet says.
“We have not determined the quantum yet, but it is one of our largest spills in terms of the contaminated river and the magnitude of the impact of the contamination,” Transnet spokesman Saret Knoetze told Moneyweb.
A statement from Transnet Pipelines CEO Michelle Phillips on Wednesday says the tactical security team deployed to investigate the fuel theft found the spill was the result of tampering with a block valve chamber.
Transnet says it was able to restart the pipeline late in the afternoon on Wednesday.
Cost of the damage
Transnet says it is currently unable to precisely quantify the amount of diesel lost, the boundary value or the associated costs of the damage.
“It is far too early to determine the costs associated with the environmental remediation and rehabilitation of the contaminated area,” says Knoetze.
According to Transnet, the diesel has contaminated the surrounding farmland – normally used for grazing – and the local Meul River.
“The focus is currently on containment and after containment, [will be] recovering product in the free phase. We can then determine how large an area is contaminated and a full rehabilitation plan is then created,” says Knoetze.
She says the river will be transnet‘s priority for at least the following week. “Sometimes the product… sticks to the plants on the river side, so our priority is to clean the river and make sure there is no contamination downstream.”
Transnet says it is in consultation with farmers in the surrounding communities about the extent of the damage.
Supply remains safe
Although significant, Transnet says the spill will not lead to a fuel shortage for Gauteng fuel users – who are the main market for the diesel pipeline – as reserves remain sufficient.
“The customer did have inventory barriers and there are currently enough inventory barriers to serve the market and we should start the pipeline [this week] and continue to serve the inland shipping area,” says Knoetze.
“So at this stage there are no concerns about security of supply.”
Incident under investigation
Transnet says that several security interventions to curb fuel theft over the past year have yielded positive results, with the entity seeing a 50% reduction in the number of such incidents compared to the previous year.
An investigation into this latest incident is underway and Transnet has appealed to the full power of the law to bring down the perpetrators.
“We are calling on all strategic industry players, including petroleum retailers and the public, not to buy fuel from unregistered traders,” Phillips said.