Saturday, 24 December 2005

Buncefield Oil Depot Explosion

The recent explosion at the Buncefield depot in Hemel Hempstead came as quite a shock to me. I live close by and travel around the adjacent lanes at least twice a week. I travelled along the lane between the oil depot and the industrial estate 18 hours before the explosion, and my children were with me. The devastion to nearby buildings is quite scary. I once worked in one of the nearby buildings now destroyed, and
I join with all those who are thankful the incident occurred at a time when very few people were working in the area.

I have read that for an explosion to occur - that was alledgedly heard 100 miles away ; registered 2.4 on the Richter scale. - something very unusual must have occurred. Petrol does not just explode. This is a finished product, not a refinery where complex oil cracking procedures are in place. Ignite, yes. Exploding is different. I read that the oil storage tanks have floating roofs and maybe the system failed somehow, causing a build up of a vapour cloud. Certainly the Fuji Film security guard had said that just prior to explosion he was looking for the source of a fumes he could smell.

I feel sorry for the tanker driver who thinks that turning an ignition key off caused the spark. The incident occurred at just after 6a.m. - that's the time central heating comes on in many homes, so maybe a gas boiler firing up in one of the nearby homes was the trigger?

The oil depot was located where it is because that is where a buried supply pipe comes in. The depot was there long before the nearest industrial buildings were proposed and built. People will not tolerate the possibility of a repeat incident. A new site has to found, and not too far away. Petrol tankers are currently been diverted in from Birmingham, Northampton, and even Hull to fill the void that the out of action depot in Hemel Hempstead has caused. As I write there are shortages of some grades at petrol stations in the Hemel Hempstead area. Transporting this fuel by road for longer distances must be costing the companies a small fortune. And it is also an extra risk that it is being transported by road.

So, in my view, a new site somewhere along the route of the pipeline has to be found. To continue at Buncefield would be too scary for local people, whatever new failsafe devices are dreamt up to prevent a reoccurence. The authorities need to get a new site and not waste time thinking about how they would make Buncefield any safer. It needs to be sited perhaps a mile from other buildings, and preferably well shielded by natural formations (or even unnatural formations). On a global scale, all oil depots will have to be reconsidered for siting, in much the same way that an aircraft accident investigation would recommend for their whole industry.

Pictures:

Some Pictures Here


Business Affected

Northgate Information Solutions - building wrecked. Hosted several websites

FUJIFILM Electronic Imaging Ltd - building wrecked

Supplies electronic pre-press equipment and software open imaging systems.
www.ffei.co.uk/
3COM

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Jobs threatened