Move promises multiple benefits, particularly relief to north Chennai residents affected due to frequent oil leaks in pipelines

Public sector oil marketing company Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) is fast tracking plans for establishing a terminal in Ennore, an installation that will be a bigger, better alternative to its Tondiarpet facility.

On paper for many years, the plan and its early implementation have assumed significance in the light of a number of oil leaks allegedly from pipelines of the national oil companies in north Chennai in recent months.

Following one such incident a few days ago, the Central Pollution Control Board on Friday asked the company to stop operating three pipelines.

Stating that the assistance of other public sector oil firms had been sought to identify the source of the oil, an official of BPCL said the company wants to move out of north Chennai.

It is not alone in thinking on these lines as HPCL, which has a terminal in Tondiarpet, had set up a terminal near the Ennore port.

BPCL applied for 110 acres in Ennore about six years ago.

After not getting the desired push owing to various reasons, the project is set to receive greater attention as the company, he says, has started pursuing it seriously now.

Assurance from Minister

A fortnight ago, a memorandum was submitted to Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry E.M. Sudarsana Natchiapppan, and he assured BPCL officials that his Ministry would give a clear indication of the land in 60 days.

They are salt pan lands and come under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, the BPCL official said, adding that the terminal, with latest facilities for improved handling and safety, in Ennore would be able to handle 1.55 lakh kilo litre. The Tondiarpet terminal capacity is one lakh KL.

The company estimates that it would need two years, from the date of receiving all approvals, to commission the new terminal.

Closing their terminals – storage points from where products are supplied to retail outlets – in north Chennai appears to be good option for the three big players in petroleum retailing in the country, Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation and BPCL. They have their terminals either in Tondiarpet or the neighbouring Korukkupet.

A chunk of their product requirement for the Tamil Nadu market, especially the eco-friendly Euro IV standard automobile fuels, is met by the 10.5-million-tonne refinery of Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd. in suburban Manali.

Serving as a backbone of operations is the network of pipelines, both underground and above ground, in various parts of north Chennai used to move petroleum products.

Almost all these pipelines are old, some in operation for four decades, including that from Chennai port to the Manali refinery used by CPCL to transport crude.

One of the reasons for the marketing companies looking elsewhere and CPCL planning to replace the crude pipeline is the development of north Chennai.

What once used to be area with very little inhabitation is choc-a-bloc now, an IOC official said.

The number of buildings and densely-populated areas complicate things for the oil companies, be it in terms of moving their products by road or attending to leaks.

BPCL, according to its official, had, in view of the mounting challenges, shifted nearly 80 per cent of the loading from Tondiarpet to Karur, which is connected by a pipeline from its refinery in Kochi. The facility in north Chennai is predominantly used to cater for petrol bunks in and around the city.

It has also taken on lease tankages in Ennore.

With the Ennore terminal, the company would explore the possibility of moving the products along the coast from Kochi, thereby also reducing product movement by road.

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