Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A Village Secret

The white pipeline markers around our village are a familiar sight. They indicate a system serving many parts of the country which started out as a closely guarded secret.

Britain’s oil pipelines were planned in 1936 when it was realised that supplies to the RAF might be vulnerable in time of war . The first was completed in 1938 and linked the ports at Avonmouth and Liverpool which at the time were the principal oil importation docks.  It would allow delivery of oil by road and rail to continue should one of the terminals be out of action.

With the outbreak of war in 1939 it was decided to build a number of underground oil storage facilities linked directly to the pipeline which would then extend eastwards to supply the key airfields in East Anglia, Lincolnshire, Essex, Kent and the south Midlands . Work was carried out at dead of night lest the Luftwaffe should see what was going on.
It was re-named The Government Pipelines and Storage System (GPSS) and in anticipation of the invasion of France was extended further with additional storage depots. RAF and USAF bases could now be fully supplied as could the English Channel pipeline, Operation Pluto.

With the end of the war, ownership passed to the Oil and Pipelines Agency (OPA), part of the Ministry of Defence and whilst remaining secret, private use was encouraged. The pipeline was extended as a result, to serve each British oil refinery as well as major airports and that passing through Furness Vale, supplies Manchester Airport. Following fuel protests in the year 2000 and blockages of refineries, it was decided by the M O D to further extend the network.

March 2015 saw the system privatised when it was sold for £82 million to the Spanish company Compañía Logística de Hidrocarburos (CLH)

Until the sale, the RAF flew the entire 2400 km length of the pipeline each day to check for damage.
There are only two reported incidents, one at Patchway near Bristol in 1998 and another in 2000 when some workmen severed the pipe at Yeardsley Lane. The event prompted a live TV news broadcast while residents were evacuated from their homes.

Here is one of the few places where the pipeline is exposed as it crosses Furness Clough. There is another white marker at the top of the bank.


  1. PLUTO, is about the only thing I can remember from school history lessons...

    1. Pipeline Under The Ocean https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pluto

  2. Privatised and sold for £82m. More infrastructure paid for by the taxpayer sold off at bargain-basement prices. Try installing a 2400km pipeline in the UK today for £82m. I hate this government, I really do.

  3. It does seem grossly undervalued John but I don't know the terms of the sale. Might well be that CLH are committed to make large investments in the infrastructure.

  4. Not only was it sold for £82 million the MoD then also took out a contract with CHL to continue to be supplied with fuel through the pipeline!