Auckland fuel crisis: Suspected digger driver denies responsibility

A Northland digger driver suspected of damaging the fuel pipeline to Auckland is vehemently denying it was him.

The rupture caused a fuel crisis which disrupted travel last week for thousands of airline passengers.

Robbie Hislop has been driving diggers in Northland for nearly 20 years and he knows the local excavation industry like he knows the controls of his digger.

But digger drivers aren't exactly popular in Northland right now because of the fuel pipeline rupture, and the local rumour mill is pointing the finger at him.

However he told Newshub he "definitely" wasn't driving the digger which hit the pipe.

He's perplexed at how he became the prime suspect. He's been asked by mates and journalists if it was him, and he wants to clear his name.

"Digger drivers have become the scapegoat for the rupture," he said.

Mr Hislop says every single digger driver in the region knows the pipeline is there and not to dig near it.

"It's clearly marked," he said.

White posts show the pipe's track through the farmland and there are warning signs too.

It's buried at a depth of four metres. Mr Hislop says if it was a digger that scraped it, the driver wasn't just playing around.

"It's not an accidental thing. If you want to go that deep, you know what you're looking for. Kauri is shallow," he said.

The pipeline's owner is investigating too.

"We are in the process of sending the offending piece of pipe to a third party, called Quest Integrity, they are metallurgical experts, they will give us a report, in terms of what exactly happened to this piece of pipe," Refining NZ CEO Sjoerd Post told Newshub.

Around 70,000 litres of fuel has leaked into the soil at Ruakaka. It's slowly being pumped out of the water table, but how much has been recovered is unknown.

What is known is that it's made its way into the local waterways, including one more than a kilometre away from the leak, and has made its way through four containment booms.

How long it'll take to clean up the spill is anyone's guess.

As for the pipe, it's been repaired and is up and running, with the first batch of fuel expected in Auckland on Monday night.