Liquid pitch tank leak at Port of Portland

A tank containing liquid pitch at the Port of Portland started to leak around 3pm Saturday 18 February. The tar-like liquid is a by-product of the steel industry and is used in the smelting of aluminium at the local Portland Aluminium Smelter.

According to statement released by the Australian Infrastructure Fund (AIX) today, the liquid pitch is leaking at a rate of five tones per hours. The tank is said to contain 3,000 tonnes of liquid. To maintain its liquid state the product is kept at 170°C when it leaks to the air, it cools and hardens.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) was alerted once the leak was discovered and the Port’s emergency response system was activated.

CFA’s response has been to carefully cool the leaking liquid pitch with water spray. The liquid pitch, which is leaking from the tank, is being contained by a concrete bund which is also capturing the cooling water. The CFA has also constructed a second bund around the facility as an extra precaution.

AIX said that at this stage the plan to address the situation would involve pumping the liquid pitch from the damage tank to the ship which supplies it.

The ship is returning to Portland and is expected to dock late Wednesday evening (22 February 2012). A pipeline and pump from the tank will be installed to move the liquid pitch from the tank to the ship.

Inhalation of fumes from the ship is the biggest health concern of the leak. AIX said that air quality monitoring is being undertaken in the area by the CFA and no emissions have been detected.

However, wind direction, potential emissions and the rate of leakage are all being constantly monitored.

Local residents were initially ordered to remain indoors because of the risk of breaking in the fumes from the facility, however the restriction was lifted on Sunday afternoon due to favorable winds and no measured emissions date.

AIX reports that the tank leak has impacted operations at the Port. AIX said that this morning, some customers were allowed to re-commence deliveries of cargoes to the Port, including minerals sand and woodchips.

The delivery of the grain to GrainCorp’s export facility at Portland will, however be stopped until the situation is resolved as the grain unloading equipment is right next to the affected tank.

AIX said the cause of the leak is not known but has advised that a full investigation will be planned soon as full access to the tank is possible.

AIX said it will keep the marled informed of any developments.

AIX owns 50% share in Port of Portland, which constitutes 3.9% of the company’s portfolios.