The country’s new oil pipeline, which is barely one-year-old, has registered its first breakage at Kiboko near Emali town.
A site visit by The Standard yesterday established that hundreds of litres of diesel had spilled before technicians moved to the site and repaired the ruptured pipe.
The Sh48 billion pipeline project was commissioned in August last year after a protracted battle between the contractor and Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) over construction delays and additional payment demands.
The spillage involved diesel, which is a less flammable fuel compared to petrol. Various petroleum products are pumped intermittently through the pipeline on a pre-determined schedule to ensure they do not mix.
Villagers confirmed seeing an excavator drive to the site where the pipeline is buried at least one metre into the ground. It was not clear from a visual inspection what could have compromised the pipeline.
KPC was also yet to provide the amount of fuel lost in the spillage that left about 50 metres of ground along the pipeline still soaked.
It could also not be immediately confirmed whether the company had informed the environmental watchdog, National Environmental Management Authority, of the spillage.
Treating the affected ground would typically involve applying chemicals such as phosphate fertiliser to help break down the hydrocarbons that make up petroleum, to safeguard the environment.
An engineer who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity said weakness as exhibited by the Kiboko breakage could typically be arrested when the pipeline was subjected to mechanical stress tests and electrical signal examination.
Electrical signal examination typically checks the integrity of the welded joints using either laser testing or sending ultrasonic waves to detect any weaknesses, especially those resulting from corrosion.
“We are staring at a calamity in the case of a rupture while petrol is being moved. Imagine what would happen if we scaled up pumping pressure to capacity? It would be deadly,” he said.
In the worst case scenarios, the engineer added, the entire pipeline might need to be redone.
The pumping rate is estimated to be 800 cubic metres per hour, which is below the pipeline’s 1,200 cubic metre capacity.
Attempts to reach KPC or Nema for comment about the spillage and any possible implications were unsuccessful by the time of going to press.