Failure to Bund costs Plant Hire Polluter 25,000!

9th May 2009

A national plant hire company has been fined 12,000 for an oil leak which polluted the River Calder. At Pontefract Magistrates' Court, Hewden Stuart plc pleaded guilty to polluting the Calder and one of its tributaries, Willowbridge Beck, with diesel oil last October.

The company also admitted breaching oil storage regulations.

At the time, Hewden Stuart, owned and operated a depot at Willowbridge Lane at Whitwood, near Castleford, where it stored and maintained plant and vehicles for hire. Paul Harley, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said the company kept a diesel oil tank at the depot. The tank had been in use for many years and the Environment Agency had no record of any previous incidents.

Mr Harley told the court the tank was not bunded. A Bunded Tank consists of a 'tank within a tank'. The inner tank acts the primary storage vessel, whilst the outer tank acts a failsafe in the event of a spill. Bunded tanks are mandatory at almost all commercial, industrial and institutional premises, together with most new domestic heating oil storage tank installations too.

After dark on 7 October 2008, a security guard discovered a significant oil leak in the yard, traced immediately to the diesel oil tank. The court heard thieves, in trying to steal fuel, had disconnected a hose which emptied the tank's entire the contents into the yard. Between 3000 and 4000 litres of diesel oil then flowed into surface water drains and down the road, ending up in Willowbridge Beck.

About 1.5 kilometres of the beck was affected by oil, as was the River Calder where it joined the beck. Although the area is mainly industrial, the beck flows through a green corridor which is a habitat for wildlife.

Mr Harley said Hewden Stuart reacted quickly to contain the residue of the spillage and organised and paid for specialist contractors to carry out an extensive clean-up operation, which was monitored by the Environment Agency.

The company was found to have no formal written procedures about the security of the tank and described the failure to install a bunded tank as a "regrettable oversight". It admitted other non-compliant diesel tanks had been discovered and rectified at other sites.

Mr Harley said the incident was reasonably forseeable, caused by the lack of a bunded tank, and a large area of watercourse was affected.

In mitigation, the company made full and frank admissions and expressed its remorse and regret at the first opportunity. It advised the Environment Agency of the incident as soon as practicable and co-operated with the subsequent investigation.

Hewden Stuart, which has since vacated the Whitwood site, was given credit for its early guilty plea and the court acknowledged it had responded appropriately to the incident and organised the clean-up at its own expense.

The company, of Collins House, Rutland Square, Edinburgh, was fined 10,000 for the pollution offence and a further 2,000 for the storage offence. It was ordered to pay full prosecution costs of 1,584.30 and a victim surcharge of 15.

Speaking after the hearing, environment officer David Preston said, "This case demonstrates the importance of having sufficient protection to oil storage tanks, which is a legal requirement.

"Not only was the company fined 12,000 but in addition it also cost them over 12,000 to clean up the environment following the spill. This is many times what it would have cost to provide a bund in the first place."


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Article Last Updated 20th May 2009
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