Suburbs face disruption as pipelines recoated

Residents of the Bluff and other south Durban suburbs are in for another three to four years of sporadic traffic disruption and roadside excavation while the city's two petrol refineries dig up and recoat 11km of buried fuel pipelines.

Sapref, which refines fuel for the Shell and BP groups, held a public meeting on the Bluff this week to announce its plans to recoat all seven of its fuel transfer pipelines which stretch from Reunion to Durban harbour.

The project is due to start in January and could take up to four years to finish, at a cost of almost R400-million.

Engen refinery has a similar network which will also be excavated and recoated on a selective basis.

The majority of the excavation work will be along Tara Road and Lighthouse Road.

What this means for many residents of the Bluff, Fynnlands, Wentworth, Austerville and Merebank is that traffic could be disrupted along some routes, while dozens of driveways, garden verges and public footpaths will also be dug up.

Although the decision to repair and recover pipes with new anti-rust wrappings and coatings has been approved by city officials, the move has been criticised by many residents as a short-sighted decision to save money on wholesale pipeline replacement.

The repair work follows the discovery of several leakages and rust-related weak spots in the pipelines in recent years, including a major underground spill of at least 1,3-million litres of petrol in Tara Road in July 2001.

Four years later, Sapref is still trying to recover the residue of spilled petrol underneath some of the houses near Bluff nature reserve.

A subsequent investigation by the city and two refineries recommended extensive repair and rehabilitation work to underground fuel pipes, some of which are between 40 and 50 years old.

Speaking at the Fynnlands Senior Primary School this week, Sapref spokesperson Margaret Rowe apologised in advance for the renewed excavation work and gave the assurance that the refinery would try as far as possible to reduce the inconvenience to residents.

But local councillor Duncan du Bois and some residents suggested that the refineries should replace the network with new pipelines to spare residents future risk and inconvenience.

"For the next three to four years you will be excavating the entire servitude. We have seen before what happens when you do this work, so it is naive to believe that people's lives will not be disrupted," he told Sapref.

The extra cost involved in replacing pipes at the same time was "rather small beer" for a multinational petrol group, said Du Bois. "Surely you are not going to wait another 40 years to replace them?" he asked.

Rowe, however, defended the decision to rehabilitate rather than replace the network.

"It is a bit like owning a house. If you find a crack in it, you don't knock down the entire house and replace all the bricks. You fix the crack properly and make sure there is no potential for further cracks.

"Once we have done this, there is no reason why the pipes should not last well into the future," she said.

The refinery also said the rehabilitation work would be conducted section by section, to minimise disruption along the 11km servitude.

Residents have urged Sapref and Engen to work together during the project to avoid duplicating the disruption.

Engen Production Manager Willem Oosthuizen said the refineries would share information via a joint task force, and "as far as possible" they would try to conduct a piggy-back operation.

He acknowledged that the driveways and verges of scores of residents would have to be dug up and that the removal of screening shrubbery could also interfere with privacy in some areas.

  • This article was originally published on page 6 of The Mercury on June 16, 200

Articleby: Tony Carnie