New standards in UK for hazardous fuel storage sites

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Oil and fuel depots across Britain must improve environmental and safety standards for the bulk storage of hazardous liquids, with the release of a new containment policy that comes in the wake of the Buncefield investigation. Developed in partnership with the oil and fuel industry by the Competent Authority (CA) for the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) – comprising the Environment Agency (EA), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) – the policy demands more rigorous safety standards from operators in order to protect people and the environment, both on and off site.

Regulated by an assessment and inspection programme, operators must upgrade their sites or face the possibility of enforcement action.

The new COMAH containment policy affects all large oil and fuel installations across Britain and follows a three month public consultation that received input from industry, the general public and other interested parties.

Environment Agency Head of Industry Regulation, Dr Martin Bigg, said: “This containment policy clarifies and strengthens the requirements for primary containment, such as alarms and emergency shut down systems, to prevent spillages from storage tanks.  It also requires improvements to secondary and tertiary containment systems, such as bunds around tanks, to reduce the consequences of any spills that might occur.’’

“The upgraded standards will apply immediately to any new sites, so they comply with best practice.  We will review each of the existing sites against this policy and work with the operators to establish appropriate improvement plans” Dr Bigg said.

The policy sets new standards for each installation according to risk – taking into account the type of fuel and infrastructure on site, as well as proximity to surrounding communities and the environment. The highest standards will be expected of installations where the risks to people and environment are greatest.

HSE’s Head of Chemical Industries Division, Kevin Allars, said: “The Major Incident Investigation Board’s reports on the incident at Buncefield have reiterated how important effective containment of flammable substances is.  This policy represents an holistic risk-based approach to all aspects of containment and I believe that once fully implemented this policy will deliver permanent and far-reaching enhancements to safety in the oil/fuel storage industry and will also significantly reduce the potential for environmental harm.”

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s National Environmental Protection and Improvement Department Head, Allan Reid, said: “This is an important policy which has been developed with industry to ensure there is a clear understanding of the significance that the Competent Authority places on managing risks effectively to protect the environment and human health”.

This policy is a response to several of the recommendations made by the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board in their Design and Operations report, published in March 2007, and the CA Report on the Findings of the Oil/Fuel Depot Safety and Environmental Reviews.

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