Fuel Pipelines under the Western Downs

During the Second World War, German bombers flew over the UK on air raids, destroying homes, businesses and  railways. In order to help reduce the damage, the Government built pipelines under the ground to transport fuel from our ports to the cities. This pipeline network was initially built to enable London to receive fuel: without this, it was feared that the morale of Londoners would be so low that the war effort would be compromised and the war itself  lost.

Once these initial pipelines were in place, the Government, realising their benefit, ordered that the pipeline routes should expanded across the country. This was difficult to achieve because of the shortage of steel to make the pipes, so some were obtained from other sources and were not always the right size. The result was that the pipeline diameter changed at random places throughout the network.

Later in the war, after the Normandy Landings, several pipelines were laid across the bottom of the English Channel to supply fuel to the Army in France. These were famously known as PLUTO – ‘Pipe Lines Under The Ocean’.

After the war, the underground pipeline network continued to be used. It was initially managed by the government but later became privatised. The old pipes were replaced with a more modern design and they are still used extensively today. So why, you are probably asking, is this so interesting?

The answer is, because two of these pipes run through our town of Hungerford. These pipes deliver fuel from the port of Bristol, to an oil storage facility in the west of London, a distance of over 100 miles, and they carry aviation fuels.

Some years ago, the technicians uncovered one of these pipes near to where we live to inspect it. They also cut a length out of it in order to inspect the inside. It was about 8 inches (20cm) diameter, had a wall thickness of about 3/4 inch (2cm), and was buried about 6ft (1.5m) deep.

This was a small part of a very thorough inspection regime. The pipes are constantly monitored electronically by a fully manned 24/7 Control Centre; every week, a helicopter flies the whole length to check everything is OK, and on top of that they periodically send what is known as a ‘Pig’ down through the pipe. This is a device which is flushed through with the product, and checks for cracks or any other faults from inside the pipe using an ultrasonic scanner. Finally, friendly pipeline technicians who daily monitor the pipelines may be encountered walking the pipeline checking its integrity, and meeting with landowners to discuss any issues they may have.

The route through Hungerford is mainly to the northern side of the town. Coming from the west, they cross the river Kennet from south to north, at two different points, to the west of the bridge near the Texaco garage. One of them crosses the river about a quarter of a mile away then passes around the northern side of Eddington. The other crosses the river close to the bridge then follows the A4 to just beyond the Shell garage, past the mini roundabout. Both pipes then run right across Cottrell Close. The northern pipe passes along the top part of the Close while the other pipe swings northeast from the A4 to meet up with the other one at the northeast corner. Both pipelines then emerge quite close together into the adjacent fields and continue on eastwards.

Across the network over 30 million tonnes of fuel is transported every year saving over 1 million tanker journeys. Once the fuel arrives at a storage area it is transferred to tankers which distributes the fuel direct to garages that area. The garages in our area are supplied from the Southampton oil refinery and comes via a pipeline and a distribution point near Winchester.

So next time you fill up with fuel have thought to the journey that your tankful has made in order for you to go and visit your Mum; go on holiday; get to work; do the shopping or simply go for a pleasant drive in the countryside.

Rob Chicken

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