Why minimize underground pipelines

Cologne -

The chemical company Shell wants to bring the unsafe underground pipelines on the factory premises in Godorf above ground earlier than planned. Marco Richrath, director of the refinery, agreed to have the pipes rehabilitated by the end of 2029 after underground leaks in recent years in order to avoid further accidents caused by leaking oil in the future. The district government of Cologne had originally given the group until 2034 for this work. Both residents and district politicians found this period to be far too long, they demanded a shorter period. District Mayor Manfred Giesen had named the year 2025 as an acceptable target in January. So now it will probably be 2029.

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300 tons of gas oil flowed into the ground

Almost a year ago it became known that around 300 tons of light gas oil had flowed into the ground through a 1.5 millimeter hole in a corroded pipe for nine months. Around 13,000 square meters of floor space on the company premises were affected by the contamination. A report named the underground location of the kilometer-long oil pipes on the site as the main problem and stated that there was an “urgent need for action”.

“The leak discovered in 2020 is intolerable. We didn't live up to our own standards, ”said Richrath on Wednesday. All the more effort has been made to find ways to reduce the risks and accelerate the measures, taking into account all safety-relevant aspects, and will continue to do so.

"Critical points" should be resolved this year

In 2014, Shell began converting all of the so-called road penetrations at the Godorf plant that run below the road into bridges. According to the company, 68 of a total of 145 road penetrations had already been converted by the end of 2020. The next step is to reveal all remaining underground pipelines under road crossings by 2025. The focus is on the “critical intersection points” that still exist and are to be processed by the end of 2021. This alone reduces the risk of an undetected leak by around 80 percent, said Shell.

The external, independent team of experts led by Professor Christian Jochum considers the continued operation of the lines with the specified measures and in particular with the acceleration of the rehabilitation program to be “still justifiable”.

NRW Environment Minister Ursula Heinen-Esser was satisfied: "The acceleration of the redevelopment plan is a welcome step in the right direction," she said. In the next step, it must be examined in more detail by the district government and anchored in a legal order. "The aim must be to prevent further leaks right from the start."

District President Gisela Walsken also said that she was "pleased" and said: "The remaining risk until then will be minimized by additional monitoring measures that we have already established in the administrative order."