The coming of midwinter not only marks the half-way point of our journey here in Antarcitca, it is also the time of year that we have to transfer over 500 000 litres of SAB (Special Antarctic Blend) fuel from the Lower fuel farm located near the wharf up to the Upper fuel farm near the station. While this operation doesn’t quite reach the heights of the mid-year celebration dinner, with this fuel being the lifeline of the station, it’s a very important task that takes place each year to keep the station warm and running smoothly.
The process of shifting over 500 000 litres of SAB fuel from the lower fuel farm to the upper fuel farm is not without its obstacles, including temperatures in the minus twenties, the possibility of high winds, the lack of daylight, slippery ground conditions, the use of a flat hose instead of a fixed line, the close proximity to the 3300 volt high voltage cables, and ice cliffs near the route for the hose.
In preparation for this task, the Atlas-Copco compressor and portable hose reel unit was brought up into the workshop during the week before hand to allow it to defrost and then be visually inspected for any damage. Steve the sparky used his cable locator, to locate the high voltage cable under the snow and ice so that the area around where it passed could be cordoned off to prevent any damage to the cable during the preparation of the path for the hose and during the fuel transfer. He also connected a generator van to the old “chippies” workshop transformer to allow the power supply from the station to be turned off during this time.
Mark then took the excavator down to the Lower fuel farm and excavated around the steps and fuel transfer pumps for access, while Ben used the Prinoth snow groomer to groom a path for the fuel hose from this point up to the fixed fuel line connection point near the station. At the same time, a hut was set up at each fuel farm with a heater and urn inside each, to give everyone somewhere warm to take refuge between fuel readings and to be able to make themselves a tea or coffee during their two hour shift. Two fuel spill containers, fully stocked with spill mats and everything required in the event of a spill, were conveniently located at each fuel farm. And with fire extinguishers also placed along the route everything was in readiness to begin.
So with all the preparations done and the JSA (Job Safety Analysis) completed and signed off, it was now just a matter of waiting for the weather window to open to allow the transfer to begin. Originally we had hoped to commence on the 9th July but due to blizzard conditions with winds reaching speeds of over 100 knots this didn’t happen. Luckily though, we didn’t have to much longer to wait as the weather cleared up fairly quickly and the refuel was able to get under way on the 11th July.
The first step was the laying out of the 500 metre flat hose and connecting it up to all the necessary manifolds, pig catchers, and valves. Then with all the cam lock fittings locked into place the hose was leak tested by filling it with compressed air and checked to make sure there was no pressure drop in the gauge, while at the same time visually checking along its length for any signs of leaks or damage to the hose.
With the pressure test completed and everything OK it was time to prime the pump and start pumping the fuel. We commenced pumping at 1355 (1:55pm), and had planned to not stop pumping until the refuel was completed, however like all good plans there is always something that goes wrong, we had the generator van fail four hours into the operation and had to stop pumping while the power was transferred back over to mains power from the station and the area the high voltage cable taped off to stop people walking anywhere near the cable, in the end it only added just over an hour to the refuel which was good.It was an interesting 24 hours, during which time we opened and closed valves changing over tanks and kept a watchful eye on the tank levels by dipping the tanks and relaying the levels every 15 minutes. A special mention has to go to our weather guru Abrar for taking tank-reading accuracy to new levels during his two hour shifts, with everyone on station being rostered on for a two hour shift (with a six hour break in between during the day) it enabled the load to spread evenly amongst the station, making life easier for the Diesos.
In the end it was a relief when we had completely filled all the fuel tanks on the station along with all the Wilkins Aerodrome equipment.
Thanks to everyone on station for helping this operation run smoothly and efficiently.