Buncefield Process Safety Report: New Standards for Fuel Storage Facilities in the UK

Apr 10th, 2010 | By | Category: Health and Safety, United Kingdom

The United Kingdom Process Safety Leadership Group’s (PSLG) final report on Safety & Environmental Standards for Fuel Storage Sites was published on 11 December 2009, the fourth anniversary of the fire and explosion at the Buncefield fuel storage facility. 

The recommendations contained in the report now effectively become best practice for the UK fuel storage industry. The UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and UK Environment Agency (EA) expect to see the recommended measures that are contained in the report adopted where appropriate and practicable at facilities under their jurisdiction. 

It is likely that the guidance will be adopted informally in other parts of the world, whether by the international operators that were involved in developing the guidance or by insurers or local regulatory bodies wishing to ensure facilities are operated to best international standards.

Report Recommendations

The PSLG report is the practical response of the UK process industry to the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board (MIIB) recommendations, and it was prepared by representatives of fuel storage organizations including major oil companies, academia, the UK Health & Safety Executive and the UK Environment Agency.  The report addresses the MIIB recommendations and presents guidance to the fuel storage and logistics industry aimed at ensuring that the lessons from the Buncefield incident are learned and appropriate measures implemented. 

The six main areas covered by the report are the following:

Focus Area  Explanation
Systematic assessment of safety integrity level requirements Ensuring that automated safety systems (e.g., tank overfill prevention) are assessed to ensure that they are sufficiently reliable and that the degree of reliability is commensurate to the hazard caused by a failure.
Protecting against loss of primary containment using high integrity systems Ensuring that the design, maintenance and inspection of safety systems (including overfill protection and tank-side valves) are suitable to prevent loss of containment.
Engineering against escalation of loss of primary containment Ensuring that if a loss of containment from the storage tank occurs, the spilled material will be detected and not be ignited.
Engineering against loss of secondary and tertiary containment Ensuring that suitable arrangements are in place for containing spilled product, firewater and foam.
Operating with high reliability organizations Ensuring that facilities are operated effectively, taking account of human and organizational factors in design, operation, maintenance and testing.
Delivering high performance through culture and leadership Developing industry leadership to create and champion a culture of process safety leadership.

The recommendations are a mixture of procedural, hardware and organizational measures designed to prevent the sequence of events that led to the widespread business and environmental damage that occurred at Buncefield.  For example, bunds (secondary containment) should not only be designed with sufficient volume to contain anticipated quantities of firewater and foam that could result from an emergency but should also be sufficiently fire resistant to avoid releasing the contents.

Impact of the PSLG Recommendations

While the strict scope of the report is restricted to facilities similar to Buncefield (i.e., vertical atmospheric gasoline storage tanks greater than 5m in height and filled at rates greater than 100m3/hr), the impact of the guidance will be felt beyond the fuel storage industry. Many of the recommendations are equally applicable to other high hazard industries, such as refineries or chemical facilities, and address generic issues such as human factors and process safety management.

The need for these recommendations to be widely implemented has been tragically demonstrated following very large fires at other fuel storage facilities in recent months. These fires, in Puerto Rico and India, show some remarkable similarities to the Buncefield event. It is likely that the recommendations in the PSLG report, had they been previously implemented at the facilities, would have helped in preventing or mitigating the recent fires.

The PSLG report represents the most recent review of safety and environmental standards at fuel storage sites and as such should be studied by operators of these and similar facilities.

Overview of the Buncefield Incident

The Buncefield storage site north of London, UK, hit the news headlines in 2005 when a huge explosion ripped through the site, causing extensive damage and multiple fires.  It was subsequently determined that this resulted from a gasoline storage tank being overfilled during a routine import from a pipeline.  The overfill continued for some forty minutes, forming a large cloud of gasoline vapor.  When this cloud ignited, a powerful explosion occurred, causing severe damage to neighboring office buildings, igniting many surrounding storage tanks and injuring a number of people.  The fire-fighting effort lasted for almost a week, and the environmental legacy of the release of petroleum and fire-fighting products is still being dealt with.  The cost of the incident in terms of asset damage and business interruption is on the order of one billion U.S. dollars.  A Major Incident Investigation Board was convened under the auspices of the HSE.   Their final report was published on the third anniversary of the incident and contains 25 recommendations for the industry to address. 

About the Author

Martyn Ramsden earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Reading University and is a principal consultant with Environmental Resources Management in Manchester, United Kingdom. He has broad safety and risk management experience, primarily in the oil and gas industry, and has been involved with major projects in the UK, Africa and the Middle East. He has completed detailed risk assessments of new projects and operational facilities both onshore and offshore. Most recently, Martyn has been working on the assessment of fuel terminals following the Buncefield explosion and fire, preparing safety reports and developing process safety systems.  He has particular experience of gas explosion assessment and the analysis of structure subject to fire and explosion loading.  Martyn has also worked on the preparation of safety cases for a number of international oil and gas operators.

Photograph: Buncefield Oil Depot explosions and fire, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England, December 2005, from the Buncefield Investigation web site. 

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Comment