Blast rips Sabah-Sarawak gas pipeline

Blast rips Sabah-Sarawak gas pipeline
The Petronas gas pipeline in Lawas on fire after the explosion early yesterday morning. Villagers in nearby settlements could feel the heat from the massive fire.

MIRI - A fiery blast ripped apart a section of the Sabah-Sarawak interstate gas pipeline located in between Lawas town and Long Sukang in the northernmost district of Sarawak, resulting in the temporary shutdown of the RM4bil project owned by national oil giant Petronas.

The explosion at about 2am shattered the early morning silence and many residents around the blast area jumped out of bed in shock to see the fire just kilometres away.

Lawas MP Datuk Henry Sum said villagers at nearby settlements felt the impact of the heatwave and had been advised to evacuate to safer areas temporarily.

"Luckily, no lives were lost in the incident," he said when contacted from Parliament in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Sum said that a full-scale investigation had begun in Lawas, as well as in Kuala Lumpur, because the project belonged to Petronas.

He said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim was concerned with what had happened and wanted a full-scale probe.

"Home Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi also wants to know what was the exact cause," Sum said.

According to Petronas' Sarawak regional office, the fire had been extinguished.

"The incident has not affected any of the communities along the pipeline, the closest of which are located 9km from the area," it said in a statement.

Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department director Nor Hisham Mohamad said the project developer and his department had formed a joint committee to probe the incident.

He said the pipeline had a safety shut-off system to prevent the fire from spreading in the event of such an incident.

The affected pipeline is about 400km from Miri. Long Sukang is a hilly settlement along the rural road into the Ba'kelalan highlands.

The pipeline, which was completed early this year, is meant to channel raw gas from Kimanis in Sabah to Bintulu in Sara­wak. It passes through Lawas and Ulu Baram before entering Miri and onwards to Bintulu.

The raw gas ends up at a processing plant in the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) belt before being converted into liquified natural gas for export.

To a question on how the fire could have occurred since the pipeline was supposed to be buried underground, Sum said that question could only be answered by Petronas.

"The pipeline is a long one. Obviously, there must be some serious faults to have ignited such a huge fire," he said.

It is learnt that some parts of the pipeline are not buried underground but run along the ground surface, such as the case along the section between Miri and Bintulu.

Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party secretary-general and chairman for Lawas division Datuk Nelson Balang Rining said he had been inundated with calls from the people in Lawas.

"The incident is serious. Initial feedbacks from people there said that they heard the pipeline had exploded," he said.

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