Contractors pay the price for Heating Oil Pollution
5th October 2008
Two contractor companies renovating a large house in the Dorset countryside have been ordered to pay a total of £7,749 in fines and costs after 5,000 litres of heating oil escaped from a broken pipe and triggered a major pollution alert.
Ken Biggs Contractors and Woodstone Construction were working at Urless Farm, Corscombe in January 2007 when the owner of the property noticed there was no heating in one of his buildings.
The estate gamekeeper had earlier checked the site's domestic oil tanks and found they were still around three quarters full with approximately 5,500 litres of fuel. On January 20 an employee of Ken Biggs Contractors discovered a broken oil pipe poking out of the ground close to where contractors had demolished a wall.
Urless Farm was described as a 'substantial residential property' set in a remote part of the Dorset countryside with its own groundwater-fed water supply. The site has numerous springs feeding an ornamental lake and a small stream flowing down a wooded valley.
The property is situated approximately 7 km (4.5 miles) upstream of Sutton Bingham Reservoir which is operated by Wessex Water and supplies water to the Yeovil area. There are also three groundwater abstraction supplies within 1 km of the estate.
At the time of the offence the estate was undergoing a multi-million pound re-development with Ken Biggs Contractors as the main contractor.
The broken oil pipe was found close to the abstraction point for the property's water supply. On January 22, 2007 a representative from Ken Biggs Contractors informed the Environment Agency of a spill of heating oil at Urless Farm.
Agency officers arrived at the site and, as a precaution, deployed absorbent booms across the lake to protect water resources downstream of the spill. Wessex Water, the Environmental Health Department of West Dorset District Council and the Environment Agency's Groundwater and Contaminated Land team were immediately alerted.
On March 7, 2007, following a detailed examination of the site and removal of water and soil samples, it was discovered that Urless Farm's drinking water supply and lake had been contaminated with fuel oil.
The court heard the property's fuel storage and distribution system had been installed some five years earlier by an OFTEC registered engineer and was fully compliant with the Oil Storage Regulations. The underground pipes carrying fuel to the farm had been laid in a 3 - 4 ft deep trench and covered with a yellow warning tape.
'This was a serious pollution incident that occurred in a sensitive location where there was a risk of major contamination of public water supplies and local groundwater abstraction points. Fortunately the pollution was contained, but not before it had contaminated the property's own groundwater supply and lake,' said Andrew Leach for the Environment Agency.
'Above all, this incident highlights how important it is for main contractors and their sub-contractors to carry out full risk assessments before undertaking groundworks near oil storage tanks and pipes,' said Andrew Leach.
Woodstone Construction (SW) Ltd of Lilliput House, Fosseway, Midsomer Norton, Somerset was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £2,000 costs by Blandford magistrates after pleading guilty to, on or before January 19, 2007, causing polluting matter, namely heating oil, to enter controlled waters, namely groundwater and Urless Farm Lake contrary to Section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991.
Ken Biggs Contractors Ltd of High Street, High Littleton, Bristol were today fined £1,500 and ordered to pay £1,249 costs after pleading guilty to a similar offence at Urless Farm, Corscombe, Dorset.
Magistrates heard the cost of cleaning up the spill and monitoring local water supplies was £60,000. This was paid for by Ken Biggs Contractors' insurers.
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Article Last Updated 5th October 2008