One of the West’s most important fishing rivers is under threat from 150,000 litres of fuel which leaked when an underground pipe allegedly stealing petrol from a national pipeline was discovered.
The Western Daily Press revealed last month how police were investigating how the Esso pipeline, which runs from a refinery on the south coast to industrial sources like Birmingham Airport in the Midlands, was ‘hacked’ into.
Two men were arrested in connection with the theft of hundreds of thousands of litres of fuel, which was discovered in a storage unit on an industrial estate on the Wiltshire-Hampshire border.
Now it has emerged that the discovery was initially made when a farmer ploughed a field near Marlborough and broke a pipe that had been laid crudely under a couple of inches of soil in a remote spot on the Wiltshire Downs.
The thieves had allegedly drilled down about 8ft to get to the underground pipeline, knocked a hole into, connected a hosepipe to it and then run it to a nearby lane, covering the pipe with a few inches of soil. When the plough broke the hosepipe it pulled it out of the main pipe, causing around 150,000 litres of fuel to gush out before it could be stopped.
Now environmentalists fear that fuel will end up seeping into the River Kennet, which due to abstraction, drought and other pollution incidents, has had a troubled time recently, and is listed as in ‘critical’ health.
A spokesman for Esso said: “It’s very unfortunate and technical work is going on to try to establish whether this will affect the water table and the river.” And Charlotte Hitchmough, from the local environmental group Action for the River Kennet, said: “It is worrying and we hope the river won’t be badly impacted but no one can predict where the fuel will end up.”