Unraveling the secret of the mysterious fuel leak

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A mystery needs to be solved. That has always been a human instinct. It’s a like a scratch that needs to be scratched. And the peskier the itch, the greater the need for it to be scratched.

That was on my mind when I wrote a series of articles about the mysterious oozing presence of different kinds of fuels found on the basement of a condominium in Makati some eight years ago.I remember the series of stories I wrote about this fondly.

In the beginning, it was just a nuisance. Nobody knew where the seepage came from.

The crazier folk said the presence of the mystery fuels was proof that an alternate dimension existed and that meant the dimensional barrier was leaking, allowing those fuels to cross over from their dimension to ours.

That wasn’t even remotely true, of course, even if there are theoretical physicists that do postulate that such alternate dimensions may exist.

In the case of what happened in Bangkal, Makati, it was more of “what the heck is happening?” with a dash of “where are these things coming from?” What was at first thought to be a funny isolated occurrence turned to something serious.

To spice things up, the question “How do we deal with this?” soon made the rounds, especially after those folk living in the affected condominium and city government officials realized people were being put at risk.

There were fears that the toxic fumes from those seeping fuels can put entire blocks of residences unlivable. Others feared that the seepage can reach the water table and contaminate the ground water supply.

Experts who examined samples of the seepage said it was composed of aviation fuel, diesel, kerosene and gasoline. Because of its composition, the logical conclusion was that the seepage came from the pipeline operated by the First Philippines Industrial Corporation (FPIC).

However, FPIC officials insisted that such a conclusion was wrong. It took seven months for them to admit that their pipeline was leaking.

It was a matter of digging up the truth. For me, it was figuratively. But for the independent experts who had deal with the matter, they had to do it literally.

“Nearly seven months after traces of petroleum was reported to be contaminating a deep well in Bangkal, Makati last May, FPIC formally acknowledged responsibility for the contamination and apologized for the inconvenience caused by the firm’s leaking pipeline,” I wrote in the Graphic.

“Tony Mabasa, officer-in-charge of FPIC, made the apology during a press conference held at Chateau 1771 in Ortigas Center on November 8, the same day the company took out full-page ads announcing the apology,” I wrote.

It was a massive turn-around. The admission came a day before an independent survey team released their findings that the fuel seepage causing the contamination came from the FPIC pipeline. The month before the release of this finding, a top FPIC executive stated during a TV cable news channel that the pipeline was not leaking. That official FPIC denial was made on October 28, 2010.

The findings of Dr. Carlo A. Arcilla, then director of the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Geological Sciences, were instrumental in solving the mystery of where the seepage was coming from. His team’s findings convinced FPIC to finally admit the pipeline was leaking after seven months of insisting that the seepage didn’t come from them.

Arcilla said at first FPIC disagreed with his team’s findings because these contradicted the results of FPIC’s tests on the pipeline.

The UP NIGS director said, however, the answer was obvious since the various fuels pumped out of West Tower Condominium mimicked the fuels being pumped in the pipeline.

It was on October 29, 2010 when Arcilla’s conclusively proved that FPIC was wrong in refusing to seriously consider that the fuel contamination was coming from the FPIC pipeline. It was just a day after FPIC issued a statement that its pipeline was not the source of the contamination.

In one of the exploratory holes dug by Arcilla’s team, fuel was gushing out, which was directly traced to the pipeline, which the FPIC had insisted was not the source of the fuel leak and contamination.

By November 8, 2010, one day before Arcilla’s team was to release its official findings, FPIC took out full page advertisements apologizing “for the inconvenience brought about by the leak discovered in our petroleum transport pipeline”.

The Pollution Adjudication Board later found FPIC liable for the petroleum leak that contaminated the ground water supply at the vicinity of West Tower Condominium in Bangkal, Makati. The firm was fined Php24.2 million.

Those affected by the fuel contamination were given compensation and a fuel clean up subsequently ensued.

This series of articles about the FPIC pipeline leak was published in the Philippines Graphic in its Nov. 15, 2010, Nov. 22, 2010, and Dec. 20, 2010 issues.





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