Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd’s proposal to replace the crude oil pipeline between Chennai port and its refinery in suburban Manali with a bigger, better and safer facility has got the CRZ (coastal regulation zone) clearance.

The crucial nod from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), by way of a notification on January 3, besides paving the way for the project to fuel the refinery’s expansion programme is also expected to bring relief to residents of North Chennai. This CRZ clearance is particularly significant to them as the existing pipeline is nearly 45 years old, less efficient and suspected to have leaked many times.

Considering the need to replace it, both from a perspective of safety and improved operations, the company had mooted the replacement over ten years ago. According to CPCL sources, the 30-inch dia pipeline has been moving crude oil, from tanker vessels calling at the port to the refinery, from 1969. The refinery capacity during this period increased manifold — from 2.5 million tonne to 10.5 MT.

Another aspect that makes the clearance special is it being one of the first few to get the nod after Petroleum Minister M. Veerappa Moily took additional charge of the MoEF (following the resignation of Jayanthi Natarajan).

According to the notification, the new pipeline of 42-inch dia will be 17 km long and the line size will be optimum for unloading about 1.30 lakh tonne crude oil from a Suez max tanker within the stipulated time. CPCL officials count an annual savings of around Rs. 20 crore among the benefits of the new pipeline. A bigger pipeline, they said, would mean a relatively faster crude oil discharge rate and thereby less demurrage charges. The project cost, however, had escalated sharply from Rs. 65 crore in 2005 to nearly Rs. 200 crore now. Still, the new pipeline made sense as CPCL was planning to set up a six million tonne refinery in Manali and given the safety risks in operating the old pipeline.

Describing the clearance as important, CPCL Managing Director A.S. Basu said the project would require about 18 months to be commissioned. All the conditions stipulated as part of the CRZ clearance would be met, he said. The MoEF notification, which referred to the opposition of a fishermen’s association to the project, stipulated various conditions, including a computerised supervisory control and data automation (SCADA) system and laying of the pipeline at a minimum depth of 30 feet below ground at two localities. The company had already agreed to increase the thickness of the pipeline from 8mm to 12.5mm.

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