Consultation on storage of dangerous liquids

Eighteen months after the devastation of the Buncefield oil depot fire consultation has opened on a new policy to improve storage of dangerous liquids.

The policy applies to bulk oil and fuel storage installations across Britain and sets out ways to better protect people and the environment on and off site.

Dr Martin Bigg, head of industry at the Environment Agency, said: “Since the Buncefield accident we have worked closely with operators to ensure that lessons are learned and where necessary their safety and environmental protection measures are improved.

“This policy clarifies the standards that they need to achieve.”

The consultation was launched this month by The Competent Authority.

It authority is made up of representatives from the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and is responsible for oil and fuel storage installations, which come under the Control of Major Accident Hazard (COMAH) regulations.

Sites are expected to take between ten and 20 years to comply with the policy, which experts say will strengthen containment to prevent spillages.

Kevin Allars, head of HSE’s chemical industries division, believes it will “deliver permanent and far-reaching enhancements to safety in the industry and would also significantly reduce the potential for environmental harm.”

A petrol leak from a tank at the Buncefield oil depot near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, led to the explosion in December 2005.

No-one died but two people were seriously injured, 2,000 homes were evacuated and more than 90 companies affected.

The blaze – Europe’s largest in peacetime – burned for three days and created a plume of smoke visible across the south of England.

Contaminated water used to fight the blaze was found to have leaked into a Thames tributary.

“Incidents like Buncefield have highlighted deficiencies in containment measures at existing sites and the harm these incidents can cause,” said Dr Bigg.

“The upgraded standards will apply immediately to any new sites, so they comply with best practice.”

Responses are due by 19 September 2007 with the policy due to be finalised by December 2007.

David Gibbs

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