Oil spills need early reporting to minimise contamination

Inland oil and fuel spillage needs early reporting to minimise its environmental impact, reduce the cost of remediation and reduce the impact on land value, a report out this week has found.

It found that there are very low levels of self-reporting of incidents and a heavy reliance on third party reporting, with an increased time lapse between an incident occurring and the incident being detected.

This simply increases the probability that any spill will have a greater environmental impact as it has longer to seep into soil and water courses.

Land based spills managed by contractors are seldom reported to the Agency at all.

Even the incidents recorded on the Environment Agency’s National Incident reporting System (NIRS), predominantly water based, are mostly reported by third parties rather than self-reported.

“Oil and fuels are one of the most serious and common pollutants of inland waters,” said Richard Martin, manager of the Oil Care Campaign who commissioned the study. “This report indicates where we can best allocate resources in order to drive down the number of oil and fuel spills in England and Wales.”

“Owning up to a spill might seem painful at first, but ultimately it saves the environment, reduces the cost of clean up, and could reduce the chances of any legal action being taken, since early intervention can prevent the full environmental impact of an incident from being realised,” he added.

The study was conducted by consultants Oakdene Hollins, who analysed information that had been reported to established sources or captured by contractors who clean up most of the spills.

Of the 800 serious incidents from oil and fuel in England and Wales each year, the report found four main causes: tank failure, overfilling of tanks, pipe failure and vehicle fuel tank failure.

“Currently a significant proportion of the incidents managed by the spill contractors don’t find their way onto formal systems. This makes it extremely difficult to quantify just how many incidents have occurred,” said Dr Peter Lee, the report’s author.

“The spill contractors are a very useful additional source of information, after all they are the ones who have to tackle the spills. The more information captured on inland oil and fuel incidents, the better incidents are categorised so that they can be tackled quickly and cost-effectively.”

The Oil Care Campaign is working with the Environment Agency to determine how the level of self-reporting of incidents can best be improved.

By David Hopkins

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