£60,000 fine for BP fuel leakage

Officials at Luton Magistrates Court fined oil company BP £60,000 on 18 October after thousands of litres of unleaded petrol leaked into groundwater, only metres from the main source of drinking water for Luton, says the Environment Agency.

The fuel had been stored in an underground tank that had become corroded and had developed a hole the size of a 10 pence coin. The geology of the area is chalky, BP told edie, which is making the cleanup very difficult due to the porous nature of the strata and the presence of fissures. Although the Environment Agency fears that the process could take decades, BP is more optimistic, hoping that the cleanup should be finished in three years.

Currently 28 boreholes have been drilled as part of the cleanup, but to drill many more in order to speed up the process could damage the integrity of the strata, explains BP. Water being extracted within 30 metres of the site is still contaminated, but that being extracted from boreholes 100 metres away does not contain traces of the fuel.

The Environment Agency is currently unable to predict whether Luton’s drinking water will be affected. At the time of the incident, Three Valleys Water, the company that operates a local drinking water abstraction point, were forced to reduce the amount of water they abstract by around 30%.

The incident was regrettable and is being taken extremely seriously, a BP spokesman told edie. It is now the subject of a thorough investigation. “That kind of leakage is very rare,” he added, but the company is making changes to the way it monitors the condition of tanks in order to make it an even more rare type of event.

The storage tank dates back to 1972, and the spokesman noted that it is ironic that the leak should have occurred just before a planned redevelopment of the site. Following the fine, BP still intends to continue with the redevelopment as planning approval is still in place. The scheme will include state-of-the-art appliances and operations. “Technology has moved on since 1972,” said the spokesman, noting that the risk of failure will decrease, and the probability of detection will increase. “Our concern is to operate service stations that are clean and safe.” The top priority is safety – which includes environmental care.

Recently, BP has had similar problems in the US. In July this year, the company agreed to pay out nearly US$46 million (£30 million) in an out-of-court settlement after failing to mend leaking underground fuel storage tanks and pipes at 59 petrol station in California, says the Environment Agency.

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