Norfolk

Gas terminal blast: Shell fined £1m plus £242,000 costs

  • 20 June 2011
  • From the section Norfolk

Shell UK has been fined £1m plus £242,000 costs over an explosion at a gas terminal in Norfolk in 2008.

The company admitted seven safety and pollution offences following the explosion and fire at the Bacton terminal in February 2008.

Ipswich Crown Court heard the company ignored warnings from staff before the explosion.

The blast could have killed 10 people, according to prosecutor Andrew Marshall.

The only reason there were no fatalities was because staff were changing shifts at the time, he added.

'Sleepwalking into danger'

The prosecution was brought by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

Shell admitted breaching two Health and Safety Regulations and five areas of environmental legislation, including pollution prevention and control.

Judge Martin Binning heard Shell managers had been warned several times by workers over the presence of high levels of North Sea condensate, a highly-flammable hydro-carbon.

Shell UK had previously admitted not taking sufficient steps to protect staff and the public.

Mr Marshall said: "Management were sleepwalking into danger, no matter what was brought to their attention.

"What is not in doubt is that what took place could have been fatal for those in the vicinity of this lethal blast.

"The Crown estimates that 10 people could have been killed and that is not taking into account the injuries, serious injuries and further issues that can follow from such a situation."

Mr Marshall said: "Plant personnel were swapping for the late shift and were out of the way. So it is only by good fortune that nobody was killed or hurt or that worse damage was suffered."

Corrosion in a water separation vessel used to cool plant systems meant the chemical balance reached an unsafe level.

Basic errors, including temperature gauges being wrongly placed, were discovered by inspectors.

Toby Riley-Smith, in mitigation, told the court the board of directors and senior management had asked him to issue a public apology.

'Regret and shame'

"The company is committed to protecting the health and safety of its workers and conducts its business in an environmentally responsible way.

"It is therefore a matter of particular regret and shame that the company finds itself in court."

Judge Binning said the fine reflected the alarm the incident caused to the public.

He said there had been flaws in plant systems for many years and there had been at least one near-miss in the past.

"This was an escalating situation which had not been addressed through maintenance or risk assessment over a period of time.

"That it was a large explosion was illustrated by the fact it blew off the insulated top of a tank and sent a shockwave through a blast protected office a quarter of a mile away."

The company said in a statement: "What happened was completely unacceptable and falls well below the standards that we set for ourselves.

"Safety is our company's priority and so an incident like this is deeply disappointing.

"We have admitted our fault, accepted the penalty, and learned the lessons."

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