Fresh questions asked about storage of fuel at Buncefield

PUBLISHED: 17:00 14 October 2017

The Buncefield fire - courtesy Herts Fire and Rescue Service.

The Buncefield fire - courtesy Herts Fire and Rescue Service.

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Confusion clouds claims that petrol is going to be stored at Buncefield for the first time since the catastrophic explosion in 2005.

The Buncefield fire - courtesy Herts Fire and Rescue Service.The Buncefield fire - courtesy Herts Fire and Rescue Service.

There are two fuel storage sites adjacent to each other at Buncefield. The first, Buncefield, was destroyed 12 years ago - it was rebuilt in a different place and named the West London Pipeline and Storage.

It is managed by the British Pipeline Agency (BPA) on behalf of owners Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total, and Valero.

This site exploded when a petrol tank overflowed, creating a blast equivalent to 30 tonnes of TNT, and letting out a bang which registered 2.4 on the Richter scale.

Nearby residents, including those whose homes were devastated in the explosion, were reassured at the time that petrol in those tankers was banned, but a report on BBC News last week claimed the site would now be used to store the fuel, but conceded there had been “no official word” from BPA.

Buncefield fireBuncefield fire

BP store jet fuel at the neighbouring tanker, the Hemel Hempstead Terminal. As recently as 2014, ground fuels like petrol and diesel were also kept there.

In June this year BP submitted a planning application to Dacorum Borough Council for the switch to purely ground fuels on this site from 2018.

Chairman of Redbourn Parish Council, Cllr David Mitchell, lives 500m from Buncefield and is still haunted by the memories of the explosion.

He was appalled to hear more petrol would be stored near to Buncefield: “The thing about petrol is, it will explode and that’s what happened in 2005. There’s always the chance something would happen - aircraft fuel 
has a much lower point of combustion so is safer. But the combination of the two isn’t good, it’s worrying.”

Buncefield fireBuncefield fire

He described the “almighty explosion”: “I have vivid memories of the day, it is like it was yesterday - it was terrifying. We thought we were going to die and I thought an aircraft had fallen on us.

David’s son was just nine at the time, and had to crawl out of the rubble of his decimated bedroom wall. The damage totalled £200,000.

“I rushed into my kids’ rooms and we got out of there as fast as we could. My son could have been killed and that still haunts me to this day, it was very scary.”

Chief investigator after the accident, Taf Powell, said questions need to be asked about what is different this time: “It may be perfectly acceptable as there is always a residual risk with industrial activity - it’s a question of how low it is? Is that low enough? What improvements have been made?”

The Herts Advertiser reports on the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal disaster 10 years ago in Hemel HempsteadThe Herts Advertiser reports on the Buncefield Oil Storage Terminal disaster 10 years ago in Hemel Hempstead

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning criticised BP’s intension to increase petrol storage at the Hemel Hempstead Terminal by Buncefield: “They are asking us to trust them on this and we did that before and look what happened.”

He asked how much of the ground fuel stocked at the BP site will be petrol.

A spokesperson from BP stressed its site is different to the exploded tanks: “The decision to convert the entire [Hemel Hempstead] terminal to ground fuels meets the needs of our operations and customers. Safety, both of our employees and the local community, is our first priority. As part of this application we have proposed further safety measures at the site.”

BPA reiterated the difference between the two adjoining tankers: “It is a matter of public record that the main storage tanks newly constructed on the West London Pipeline and Storage site, managed by BPA, are designated for aviation kerosene use only.”

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