Ski field operator fined $60,000 over diesel leak - Need for care

07/11/2014 09:44


6 November 2014
The following case outlines the need for those businesses, farmers etc with fuel storage facilities on their properties to ensure that they meet the required standards for fuel storage, that the facilities are regularly maintained and that there are emergency response processes and facilities in place if a spill occurs.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Limited, which operates and manages the Turoa ski field, has been convicted and fined $60,000 after approximately 19000 litres of diesel contaminated Raetihi’s water.

Between 26-27 September 2013, the diesel leaked into the Makotuku Stream from an above ground storage container at the company’s operations base at the ski-field.

The leak happened when a booster pump continued to operate after transferring 3000 litres of diesel between two storage containers. The pump caused pressure to increase and a hose detached, pumping the entire contents of a half-full 40000 litre container into the environment.

A WorkSafe New Zealand investigation found there was a lack of maintenance and repair work completed on the storage container system in the five years before the spill. A number of issues were identified, including dispenser sumps leaking water and requiring gaskets, and a failure to control rock and ground movement to prevent impact damage and to allow for proper visual inspections of the container system and electrical control box.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts was convicted under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act for failing to adequately maintain the diesel storage container. Ruapehu Alpine Lifts was also sentenced in respect to one charge laid by the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council under the Resource Management Act. Additional fines of $240,000 were imposed in respect of that charge.

Brett Murray, WorkSafe New Zealand’s General Manager High Hazards and Specialist Services, says any company that is storing hazardous materials must do it safely and inspect its maintenance regularly. This includes an ongoing obligation to ensure that its storage system is routinely inspected and maintained by appropriately qualified personnel.

“Ruapehu Alpine Lifts’ emergency response planning left a lot to be desired,” says Brett. “It failed to identify every person with responsibilities – including those people that had to warn people who may be adversely affected. The company had also failed to test any emergency response plan for a diesel spill every 12 months.

“Ruapehu Alpine Lifts also failed to notify WorkSafe New Zealand about the spill.

“This was a serious diesel spill that affected a National Park and shut down Raetihi’s water supply for weeks. Ruapehu Alpine Lifts let itself and the local community down over this incident,” says Brett Murray.