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Leaks from high pressure oil pipelines

Hazard Knowledge

A network of high-pressure oil pipelines exists in most parts of the UK. The pipelines transport flammable liquids, including petrol, diesel, aviation fuel and oil. At any one time several liquids may be in a pipeline. Should a leak or breach occur then two or three different liquids could be released.

Pipelines are typically 100 - 400 mm diameter steel pipes, laid in 1.5 m deep excavations. Marker posts normally identify the pipeline route. Excavations, landslips, flooding, pipeline corrosion and operational errors may compromise the integrity of a pipeline. Should a break occur, up to two million litres of product could be released over a 30-minute period, resulting in a significant environmental emergency. See Section 2.7, Environmental Protection Handbook.

Pollution from high pressure pipe lines can occur from:

  • Mechanical failure of pipeline plant
  • Accidental pipe line strike
  • Illegal activity (pipe tapping)

The response and tactics used will depend on the incident, its location and resource availability. Any incident is likely to be declared a major incident because of the large quantities of highly flammable product released. Incident commanders may consider the following actions:

  • Blanketing pollutant with firefighting foam to reduce vapour and ignition risks.
  • Providing resources to protect drinking water supplies, important wildlife habitats and sewer systems.

The pipeline operator should be contacted immediately to find out if the affected section is being isolated.

See Section 2.7, Environmental Protection Handbook.