Repairs to New Zealand pipeline ease airport fuel shortage

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The main pipeline that delivers jet fuel to New Zealand's largest airport was operational again Sunday after a rupture was repaired. That should soon end a 10-day fuel shortage that has caused about 140 flights to be cancelled and disrupted the plans of thousands of travelers.

Pipeline owners Refining New Zealand said the first batch of fuel to travel through the pipeline since the repair arrived in Auckland on Sunday. The company said it will take a few days for production levels to return to normal.

The pipeline ruptured Sept. 14, prompting fuel companies to ration airlines operating from Auckland Airport to 30 percent of their usual jet fuel supply. As well as canceling dozens of flights, airlines also delayed other flights and rerouted some planes to refuel at other airports.

New Zealand's military was mobilized to help ease the shortage by using a naval tanker and military truck drivers to deliver supplies. Last week, lawmakers and public employees were told to cancel all nonessential flights to and from Auckland in order to conserve fuel.

The underground pipeline runs about 170 kilometers (106 miles) from an oil refinery to Auckland and has operated without previous major disruptions since 1985. It also carries diesel and gasoline, although the shortage was most acutely felt by the airlines, which rely on it to supply the airport.

Greg McNeill, a spokesman for Refining New Zealand, said last week that a digger or other machinery appears to have weakened the pipeline after striking it, possibly several months earlier.

McNeill said about 60,000 liters (16,000 gallons) of fuel spilled from the rupture, but the leaked fuel was contained in the surrounding soil and in a culvert and had not seeped into waterways.

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