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Openreach Still Struggling with Underground Petrol Leak in Surrey UK UPDATE

Tuesday, Jun 4th, 2024 (12:41 pm) - Score 8,160
Fire sparks particles with flames isolated on black background

Network operator Openreach (BT) has issued an update on a long-running petrol leak in the village of Bramley (Surrey, England), which is having a “significant and ongoing impact” on their underground broadband and phone network. Sadly, the dangers involved mean that the problem is now likely to affect their local work and services for “several months“.

According to a new notice sent to local communication providers and seen by ISPreview, the situation technically began “at least two years ago” after fuel began leaking from an ASDA Petrol Station in the village. But over the course of that time this petrol has begun to cause fuel smells in the area, harming local businesses, and has since leaked into the surrounding groundwater, as well as local utility services.

NOTE: Openreach has measured the petrol in their network to be above the “Lower Explosive Limit” (i.e. an ignition source could lead to an explosion within their underground cable ducts).

The local authority now reports that Thames Water has had to issue “do not drink tap water” notices to 616 Bramley properties (GU5, Surrey), with Water Stations being setup at Bramley Library and Artington. Both Openreach and Thames Water have since been busy investigating whether the work of both parties can be safely undertaken to help resolve the situation and minimise disruption time for residents.

Bramley Fuel Pollution – Affected Properties Map (Council)

The operator has today sent out a new notice to local communication providers, which underlines how challenging the situation has become to resolve (it goes without saying that petrol can be highly flammable and explosive).

The bad news is that it may now take “several months” before the situation is resolved, and that’s to say nothing of the longer-term environmental clean-up and impacts. Openreach understandably states that their engineers cannot work while the area is so unsafe, and are thus “proceeding with extreme caution“. A specialist contractor (OHES) has also been instructed to advise the operator and help “put safety measures in place to mitigate any immediate risk.”

The good news is that, right now, the direct impact upon local phone and broadband services is said to be “minimal” and only a “handful of customers” are known to have reported faults via their ISP. But it’s worth remembering that the restrictions are having a much wider impact than just the area itself, with Openreach noting that “the network that’s impacted [serves] thousands of customers in Bramley and the surrounding area.”

In other words, while the operator hopes that there won’t be any major service-related issues over the coming months, they do warn that they “won’t be able to fix every issue that’s reported to us” (many can be resolved remotely, but some cannot). “In these cases, we’ll be working with Communications Providers to provide alternative and temporary services until we can – for example via a mobile/wireless signal,” said Openreach.

The fact that no physical service repairs, engineering work, fault management, end customer provision or fibre (FTTP) build can take place (i.e. at least until the immediate explosion risk is mitigated) is naturally very disruptive, and some customers will no doubt be caught out. But at the same time Openreach are still encouraging ISPs to “continue placing orders“, even though in the short-term they may only be able to deliver those that don’t require an engineer visit.

In the end, it is VERY important to remember just how dangerous and extraordinary this situation is. We can’t recall seeing anything quite like this before. On the upside, there is a massive team effort going on behind the scenes, involving Jeremy Hunt MP, Bramley Parish Council, St Catherine’s School, Asda, EPS, Thames Water, WBC’s Environmental Team, Openreach, the EA, UK Health Security Agency and Surrey Trading Standards Officers.

Not quite the “Asda price feeling” locals had in mind, perhaps.

UPDATE 3:27pm

We’ve had a comment from Openreach.

An Openreach spokesperson told ISPreview:

“The ongoing petrol leak in Bramley is affecting part of our underground telecommunications network. We’re working closely with the local authorities, communication providers and other organisations to resolve the incident as quickly and safely as possible.

We’re working with specialists as we manage the issue and we’ve already put safety measures in place to mitigate any immediate risk, including preventing access to our underground ducts. However, it could take many months to make the ducts safe for our engineers to access.

Services for some of our customers in the area have been impacted. In these cases, we’re working with communications providers to provide alternative and temporary services until we can access our underground cables safely.

We will continue to update people as work progresses. If you’re experiencing a problem with your phone or broadband service, please report it to your provider (the organisation you pay your bill to) and we will be informed.”

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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11 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Andrew says:

    You’re not really missing much on OR anyway, but I do hope they get it sorted

  2. Avatar photo David Lewis says:

    Must be a significant amount of petrol and worth quite a bit, did nobody notice it had gone missing?

    1. Avatar photo Matt says:

      Spills like this don’t take a lot of fuel, but a constant “drip” of fuel into the water table can be pretty catastrophic. The fact this has been happening for “over 2 years” is criminal really, though they can be hard to trace the source (though in this case it feels pretty obvious?)

    2. Avatar photo Chris W says:

      2,000 litres of fuel, apparently. Asda seem to have known about the leak for years but kept the PFS open regardless. Hopefully they get hit with the full bill for all the work required, followed by a fine from environmental protection afterwards.

    3. Avatar photo David Lewis says:

      2,000 litres of petrol over years? Hope Asda gets the book chucked at them, suspect that they won’t.

  3. Avatar photo Andy says:

    I think issues with explosive leaks are more common than you think, not with petrol but with gas. I’ve seen a number of Openreach inspection covers across Bournemouth and Ferndown left open for weeks with SGN (Southern Gas Networks) barriers round them, and various gas works then happening. Is this an issue in other areas?

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      It is indeed more common for contractors to damage a gas main, which is because those pipes exist near to where a lot of utility infrastructure runs (albeit at a different depth), which is not true of petrol. But gas is a different sort of challenge, and one that often doesn’t have the same long-term problems as this situation.

  4. Avatar photo Andre Newman says:

    We have a load of open chamber covers with SGN barriers around Tunbridge Wells going on for a couple of years now. Especially around where I live, perhaps this is a factor in none of the underground Openreach fiber installs being done yet. I was just accusing OR, Trooli and Youfiber of being lazy and doing the easy stuff first.
    All the ducts in our road got cleared or relaid during covid so that’s not the excuse, maybe that work is what messed up the gas lines!

  5. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    Presumably would also affect any “alt-nets” that wanted to extend into this area (assuming that there are not any there already).

    So..any new ISP connections would need to be wireless (Three, EE, Voda), and mobile phones (maybe with OR/BT providing free call forwarding from a “landline” number to be provisioned at a later date)

    1. Avatar photo Lisa says:

      That can be done, as my old ISP Sky did that whilst my external line was out of action. Took a few weeks to fix.
      I moved to TalkTalk this Feb and had issues with their tv box, router, so just waiting on problem 3 to occur. I wonder if it possible to break contract, due to their equipment being rubbish.

    2. Avatar photo 125us says:

      Only if they want to use BT’s duct network. If they’re using shallow trenches there’s not really any risk.

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