A tale of two cities: rising to the challenge of lost supply

Santos Moomba

The disruption, about 50 km east of Port Pirie at Caltowie, cut supply to 9,000 gas consumers in Port Pirie and Whyalla soon after 5:30pm when the lateral pipeline connection was cut from the main Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline.

This caused major disruptions to local households and businesses, and posed major personnel, resource and logistical challenges for APA Group.

The natural gas networks in both cities are owned by Australian Gas Networks, formerly known as Envestra, and maintained and operated by APA Group.

The Spencer Gulf cities of Whyalla (20,000 people) and Port Pirie (14,000 people) are the respective homes of the Arrium (formerly Onesteel) blast furnace and steelworks and the world’s largest lead smelter, Nyrstar.

Both rely on natural gas.

The cities are also home to businesses and institutions such as hotels, restaurants, hospitals and aged care facilities that rely on natural gas for cooking, heating and hot water.

Throughout the six-day disruption, APA Group, its staff and contractors worked tirelessly to minimise the impacts and to safely restore supply as quickly as possible.

APA Group attributed its success in responding to the situation to preparedness, partnerships and some innovative thinking.

Repairs to MAPS were expected to take at least five days.

First response

APA Group sent more than 100 employees and contractors to the two cities and established a dedicated emergency management team in Adelaide.

At the same time, APA Group had to hold in reserve sufficient personnel for the rest of South Australia’s gas network throughout metropolitan Adelaide and other regional centres including Mount Gambier, Murray Bridge, Berri and the Barossa Valley.

Port Pirie is more than 2.5 hours north of Adelaide and Whyalla another 170 kilometres along the highway – appropriate allocation of resources to the two regional cities was critical.

Communication and cooperation partnerships were activated with the two city councils, local agencies and emergency services, including police, fire services and the State Emergency Service.

APA Group established a public call centre at its Adelaide head office and worked with the councils to establish community showering and washing facilities in Port Pirie and Whyalla.

Radio, television, newspaper, website and other news media also were provided with regular updates for affected communities.

While Port Pirie gas distribution network lost all supply, in Whyalla there was the opportunity to preserve some gas in the network, which was immediately isolated and contained for essential use.

Community engagement

The next priority was to visit all 9,000 consumer properties to ensure that all meters were turned off; a safety prerequisite ahead of eventual supply resumption.

There was also the need to assure a temporary supply to the important regional hospitals of Port Pirie and Whyalla.

For Port Pirie Hospital, APA Group brought in compressed natural gas (CNG) trailers from Adelaide.

A 24-hour relay of trailers shuttled back and forth to Adelaide for re-filling to maintain supply.

As the week progressed, the trailers were also able to provide limited supply to some community aged care facilities.

Judicious use of the remaining gas in the Whyalla network allowed APA’s team to maintain uninterrupted supply to the Whyalla Hospital.

With most of the Whyalla network shut down, APA Group kept 1,200 of the city’s 3,500 m, including the hospital, connected to gas.

Consumers in the section of network that included the hospital heeded APA Group’s public appeal to turn off the gas at their meter to make sure that their community’s hospital did not suffer.

Refuelling the network

With Whyalla Hospital’s temporary supply in place, APA Group took the initiative to source liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its Victorian Dandenong storage facility.

The LNG was brought to Whyalla at short notice in a semi-trailer mounted 18-tonne tanker thanks to gases and engineering firm BOC.

A vaporisation plant to convert the LNG to natural gas was brought from Dandenong and deployed at the Whyalla gate station, which enabled APA Group to re-pressurise the entire Whyalla network earlier than expected and to begin reconnections.

APA Group Group Executive – Networks John Ferguson said the essential benefit of the LNG intervention was that it enabled consumer meter re-connection days before normal supply was resumed by Epic Energy, also spreading the load and demand on APA’s on-ground personnel.

“APA Group knew the LNG tanker solution was viable and had worked elsewhere,” said Mr Ferguson.

“Before we could get the tanker connected and operational in Whyalla, APA worked closely on-site with the South Australian Government to secure a Safety Case and the appropriate permits. It was public-private sector teamwork at its best.

“Recovering Whyalla early also allowed us to recover Port Pirie much more quickly than would otherwise have been possible.

“An incident such as this reinforces the importance of preparedness and confidence in what we do and how we do it. In every incident, we learn a little more and take away knowledge that will assist in the future.”

Behind the scenes, APA also supported EPIC Energy’s efforts to repair the ruptured pipeline.

“During these situations we were focused on doing everything we could to get gas back to the community and I believe that we achieved that on many levels. I’m really proud of how our people worked with all the stakeholders to get the community back on Natural Gas as quickly as safely as we could,” said Mr Ferguson.

At about 1:30pm on Saturday 18 April, six days after the main supply pipe ruptured, access to normal supply was resumed.

Before nightfall the next day, the properties of all consumers had been visited by APA representatives for a return to normal service.

The gas was back on.

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