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Pipeline on the spot over capacity

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 2 – The capacity of the Mombasa-Nairobi oil pipeline has once again been called into question following the tanker explosion in Molo on Saturday, which has so far claimed 122 1ives.

The pipeline, which was recently commissioned following an upgrading project that saw four pumping stations constructed along the line that is commonly referred to as Line 1, was meant to double the product flow-rate capacity to 880,000 litres per hour.

The development would also mean that the number of petroleum tankers ferrying products from Mombasa by road would be significantly reduced.

This however has not happened and oil marketing firms have blamed the Molo disaster on the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), for its inability to pump products for marketers in Nairobi and along the Western Kenya Pipeline Extension (WKPE) such as Eldoret and Kisumu.

“For long, the oil industry in Kenya has been faced with distribution and supply constraints due to the inability of KPC to pump products for the local and export market,” said a marketer who did not wish to be named.

He claimed that each of the five major oil firms transport an average of over 15 million litres of white oil products (super, diesel, regular) by road per month between Nairobi and Mombasa, to meet the shortfall that KPC is unable to supply through the pipeline.

This, he explained, translates into at least 60 tankers for each marketer carrying highly flammable products along the busy and risky route, despite having signed supply and distribution agreements with KPC.

“The exposure to grave danger for other motorists and pedestrians along our very busy roads and the risk of fires such as the one that occurred in Molo even in future are real and imminent. Not to mention that this is exclusive of export tankers, which often load in Nairobi and sometimes in Mombasa because of pipeline inadequacy,” he warned.

It also translates into an increase in the cost of the product by up to Sh4 per litre, which is borne by the end consumer.

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“Oil marketing companies are forced to run a ‘parallel pipeline’ because KPC, a national monopoly, cannot meet its obligations due to massive corruption in its management,” the source charged.

Lately, the Pipeline Company has been on the spotlight because of the recent oil scandals, but also due to what industry players call inefficiencies of the pipeline that have caused it to operate below capacity.

The management has however defended itself, saying that all four pumping stations are running at full capacity and were pumping fuel at an average rate of 550 cubic metres (M³) per hour.

Documents seen by Capital Business however show that the average flow rate between January 2 and 21 was 489 cubic meters per hour. For instance, the document indicates that on January 2 the pumping rate was 413.79M³ while on January 21 it was 446.7M³ per hour.
According to the source, the truck that went up in flames on Saturday, was carrying 50,000 litres of Super Premium (PMS), loaded at the KPC Nakuru Depot on Saturday afternoon, and was enroute to Sudan.

This was way above the allowed axle load on Kenyan roads for fuel products, which is fixed to a maximum of 35,000 litres.

“KPC personnel are responsible for depot operations in Nakuru, Eldoret and Kisumu, and all oil marketers operate at KPC premises in these regions. It is for sure that this truck would have driven right across the borders, again without raising an eyebrow among the authorities,” he complained.

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