Openreach Still Struggling with Underground Petrol Leak in Surrey UK

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)

ISPreview has been waiting to get a comment from Openreach on this for a few weeks, but so far without success. In the meantime, the operator has today sent out a new notice to local communication providers, which underlines how challenging the situation is 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.

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