The Buncefield Explosion And Pollution Incident
On 16 July this year, Total UK Limited, having entered guilty pleas, was fined £3.6 million (£3million for safety; £600,000 for causing polluting matter to enter controlled waters) and ordered to pay costs of £2.6 million. Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd was found guilty of two offences and fined £1.45 million (£1 million for safety; £450,000 for pollution) with costs of £1 million. Other companies involved in the case were fined lower amounts. These fines are obviously at the higher end of the spectrum of fines that can be imposed. However the Courts are frequently imposing fines of between £5,000 to £40,000 for water pollution offences.

It is estimated that oil pollution accounts for over one quarter of all pollution incidents in the UK, with over 5,000 of these seriously affecting the water environment. Oil can be a particularly difficult substance to store and companies must ensure that they are familiar with the guidelines set out by the Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) (England) Regulations 2001.

Companies polluting watercourses with oil or other polluting matter will not only face large fines, but also expensive clean up costs. Therefore if a spill does occur it is important to act quickly to ensure that the environmental impact can be minimised. This can be done by implementing a pollution incident response plan which will contain specific emergency procedures, site plans and contact details for third parties who may be able to assist. It would be wise for companies storing oil to invest in spill kits and absorbent materials to place in easily accessible areas close to oil containers. Simple measures such as these are cost effective and practical, when compared to potential financial penalties and irreversible environmental damage.

Companies that adopt best practice are pro-actively protecting the environment and surpassing legal requirements to ensure that they avoid heavy financial penalties in the future. Damage to business reputation can also be significant and hamper efforts to secure new contracts in the future. Water pollution is difficult to reverse. Act now or pay the price! 

David Egan - Partner, Birmingham

Yorkshire & North East: Paul Haycock
London & South England: Sarah Wallace