The deadly explosion at the Astron Energy refinery in Cape Town this morning is set to compound the recent diesel shortage experienced by farmers due to thefts by syndicates from Transnet’s diesel pipelines.
Farmers’ organisation Agri SA have been inundated with complaints from farmers who are having trouble acquiring diesel, says Agri SA deputy executive director Christo van der Rheede.
The shortage is due to reported diesel thefts from Transnet’s pipelines. The explosion of the Astron Energy refinery in Cape Town early this morning, which left two people dead, is likely to worsen the situation, says Van der Rheede.
The explosion occurred at Astron Energy’s Milnerton refinery at approximately 04:00 on 2 July, killing a man and a woman and injuring seven people. The unit was reportedly left partially collapsed and mangled. Astron Energy is a leading supplier of petroleum products in South Africa, with a vast network of Caltex-branded service stations that makes it one of the country’s top two petroleum brands.
According to a Transnet report on pipeline product theft the thefts are thus far focused in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. However, recent incidents have occurred sporadically across the network and they take place predominantly at night.
According to Transnet, criminals have made their own couplings and come on site with their own tankers. Depending on time a second and even a third truck and tanker is used to remove the diesel. If the organised gang breach is not discovered then the valve is closed again, truck, tankers, hoses, and all other equipment are removed, and the valve does not show signs of tampering from the outside.
Gangs have also been directly drilling into the pipeline. They approach landowners for access to the land the pipeline runs across and promise them financial compensation, says the Transnet report.
Van der Rheede says the diesel thefts and Astron Energy refinery explosion will have an exponential impact on farmers who are in harvest season as it will exacerbate the diesel problems they already have.
“Farmers that are harvesting grain, maize or soya at this point in time really need to use huge quantities. They can easily, depending on circumstances, use up to 1000 litres in half an hour,” he says. Citrus farmers, who are also mid-harvest, need fuel to transport fruit to the harbours. That is why it is critical for those farmers to have access to large quantities of diesel and also at a good price at this time.
Van der Rheede says damage to the pipeline means that trucks and tankers now have to drive diesel from the ports by road, which is time-consuming and adds to the cost of the fuel.
He says diesel is like water and electricity, “it is the lifeblood of our economy.”