20 Sep 2017

Fuel crisis impact 'just keeps growing'

11:09 am on 20 September 2017

Hundreds of worried customers are asking for help each day as Auckland's fuel shortage continues, one of the country's biggest travel companies says.

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Thousands of travellers have been affected by the ruptured pipe. Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

A pipeline from Marsden Point near Whangarei supplying fuel to Auckland Airport was closed over the weekend after a leak was discovered on Thursday.

The closure has also affected petrol and diesel supplies, but the city's mayor says he's been assured vehicle fuel will not run out.

Up to 80,000 litres of jet fuel - or about two tanker loads - spilled from the pipe at Ruakaka about 130km north of Auckland after it was damaged by a digger operating on a farm.

Flights continue to be delayed and cancelled at the airport as airlines seek to conserve fuel.

Ten domestic and at least nine international flights have been cancelled today, and dozens more have been cut in the previous days.

Cancellations were expected to affect 3000 travellers in Auckland, with another 6000 facing unexpected schedule changes.

Visit Auckland Airport's website for a full list of delays and cancellations.

Air New Zealand yesterday started restricting ticket sales and stopping all sales on some international services with fuel supplies at 30 percent of normal levels.

House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said peak demand for the school holidays next week would be compounded by the delays.

"So we just have to wait and see exactly how long this thing takes, but there's no doubt about it day by day we are talking thousands of passengers who are being impacted.

"And the flow-on effect from that ... just keeps growing."

Mr Thomas said the disruption was forcing other changes to travel arrangements, such as accommodation and car rentals, and he said his agency has been dealing with hundreds of customer inquiries.

"It is a significant disruption, and [there's] certainly going to be a number of people who going to have to have their plans change.

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The site of the pipeline Photo: Supplied / Refining NZ

The owners of the damaged pipeline, Refining New Zealand, said repairs were on track and it hoped the pipe could be used again from Sunday.

It said an investigation into what caused the leak was under way.

'Auckland City will not run out of fuel'

In the meantime, more tankers carrying heavier loads are starting to deliver fuel to Auckland.

Traffic lights will be synched to get the tankers around the city more quickly and there will be extended hours to offload petrol and diesel at service stations.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff told Morning Report Auckland Transport was working with government agencies, and they were considering allowing trucks to use bus lanes as a last resort.

He said a decision about whether to allow jet fuel to be shipped directly to Wynyard Wharf would be made about midday today.

"There is inevitably a timelag but the assurance I have been given is that Auckland City will not run out of fuel for petrol and diesel for the vehicle fleet, and that's really important," Mr Goff said.

Public service workers have been asked to restrict non-essential travel out of Auckland and National Party leader Bill English has told his party's candidates to do the same.

The International Energy Agency is monitoring the situation.

Z Energy: Just three stations will be out of 95 by end of day

Z Energy spokesperson Jonathan Hill told Morning Report he expected 95-octane to be available in all but three of its stations by the end of the day.

Yesterday, 13 of its petrol stations were temporarily without the premium fuel, but the company said overnight supplies were boosted.

"There are some 300 service stations in the Auckland region and as far as I'm aware all of them have all grades [of fuel]," Mr Hill said.

"This is not a big deal for us."

Mr Hill said it was not uncommon for service stations to run out of a type of fuel from time to time.

He said the shortage of 95 happened because earlier in the crisis Z Energy prioritised the delivery of 91-octane and diesel, which were used by 90 percent of vehicles.

From today its trucks would carry 15 percent more load, and would be making deliveries 24 hours a day, Mr Hill said.

Airport still being prepared to receive trucked fuel

The fuel industry said plans to truck jet fuel from the refinery straight to Auckland Airport have not been given the go-ahead as the airport was not yet equipped to receive it.

Industry spokesperson Andrew McNaught said plans were due to be finalised in the next day or so.

"Whilst the loading facility is near to completion at [the] Whangarei refinery there are still activities that need to be done in terms of receiving the fuel at Auckland Airport."

He also told Morning Report the city would not run out of gas, with fuel continuing to be trucked into the city from Mount Maunganui and Marsden Point.

"We believe there is sufficient fuel," he said.

"We're comfortable that there may be the odd little minor inconvenience with single-product run-outs at certain sites [but], from an overall petrol and diesel perspective, that there's no concerns for the wider Auckland region."

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