Underground pipeline was carrying fuel oil from refinery in Manali; fishermen stage protest

A leak in an underground oil pipeline in the densely-populated north Chennai locality of Tondiarpet on Saturday evening, sparked tensions and set off panic, as oil companies took time to react and clear the fuel spill on Kummalamman Street.

Residents said the leak had first been noticed in the afternoon, but many thought it was sewage. The police was notified by 4 p.m. and later, the area was cordoned off. The police threw mud on the oil that had spread due to vehicles driving over it.

“Several two-wheelers skidded on the oil patch. I have been running a shop here for over six years now, but I didn’t know there was an underground pipeline here. If someone threw a lit cigarette or beedi, the oil might have caught fire. Who is to be held responsible in such cases?” said J. Dominic, a shopkeeper in the area.

C. Ramesh, who runs a lathe, said this was the first time such a leak had occurred on the street. “As soon as the leak was noticed, a fire tender should have been rushed here. But until 7 p.m., nothing happened. It has left residents worried,” he said.

The police asked several shops including the lathe and a grille-making firm to stop work, as sparks from these establishments could lead to a fire. At the grille-making shop, Vasanthakumar said until the oil was removed and the leak plugged, they would not be able to work as it would be dangerous.

Residents said officials of Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited (CPCL), whose product was being moved through the pipeline that belonged to Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), arrived in the area by 6.30 p.m.

A portion of the leaked oil was scooped up from the spot later. A company official said that fuel oil (furnace oil) was being pumped through the pipeline.

“The oil was being pumped from the CPCL refinery in Manali to the IOC FST in Royapuram. It was being pumped at a 5 kg pressure. But around 3.45 p.m., we noticed a drop in the pressure. It could have been due to a reduction in temperature. A small leak seems to have sprung up,” the source said.

CPCL director (operations), S. Venkatramana, said IOC had recently carried out a pressure test on this line. He said a maintenance team from IOC was rushed to the spot and took steps to remove the oil. The work to plug the leak would be completed overnight, he added.

Meanwhile, fishermen belonging to various associations staged a protest at the spot. They wanted to know how safe such oil pipelines were. CPCL has proposed replacing the existing crude oil pipeline from Chennai Port to its refinery in Manali.

M.D. Dayalan, president, India Meenavar Sangam said the company had claimed that stringent safety measures would be put in place to prevent leaks.

“They had said the response would be quick. But that did not happen here,” he alleged.

Company officials however, disputed the residents’ charge that it took long for the team to respond.

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