Buncefield explosion may have damaged environment for decades

Published:  16 April, 2010

An explosion like an "earthquake" at the Hertfordshire oil depot in Buncefield (UK) may have damaged the environment for decades, St Albans Crown Court (UK) has heard.

Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd (HOSL), TAV Engineering Ltd and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd are accused of health and safety breaches.

The explosion at the Buncefield depot in December 2005 caused widespread damage and injured 43 people.

It is seen as the largest explosion in peacetime Europe.

The blast, which measured 2.4 on the Richter scale and could be heard 125 miles away, happened after a massive vapour cloud ignited when 250,000 litres of petrol leaked from one of its tanks, the court heard.

The court was told HOSL had "manifestly failed" in its duty to ensure the site was safe.

Prosecutor Andrew Langdon QC, said: "There was petrol vapour in the air. It had formed a low-lying mist and it had been created from 250,000 litres of petrol which had spilled from the top of a storage tank.

"At one-and-a-half past minutes past 6am it ignited and there was an almighty vapour cloud explosion."

Langdon said local people had painted a "very frightening picture".

"Some of those who lived a short distance from the terminal suffered significant damage to their homes. Windows were blown in, several doors were blown off their hinges. We do in everyday language over-use the word 'miraculous', but here it was miraculous no-one was killed."

Jurors were told the water supply had been severely polluted by the spillage and the firefighting chemicals used to tackle the blaze, which lasted several days.

The full extent of the damage to the environment was not yet known as the chemicals may not yet have seeped into the water supply, jurors were told

In written evidence read to the court, tanker driver Paul Reed said: "All of a sudden I felt a whoosh coming from behind me.

"It was like a strong wind thudding me in the back. Immediately following the whoosh was a massive and loud explosion. The force of this blew me off my feet and on to the floor."

The jury was told that Total UK, which operated the depot, had already admitted health and safety breaches in connection with the explosion but other companies were responsible too.

British Pipeline Ltd has also admitted two charges in connection with the explosion.

The case continues.

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