A company which distributes fuel via a national network of pipelines has pleaded guilty to safety breaches after a joint failure caused 35,000 litres of unleaded petrol to burst from its pipework.

The fuel escaped under high pressure and poured down on the site owned by British Pipeline Agency Ltd near Tamworth. A subsequent Health and Safety Executive found that the failure could have resulted in a major fire and possible explosion.

Speaking at Warwick Crown Court, HSE inspector Alex Nayar said: “This was a very serious incident with the potential to be extremely dangerous. It was also one that could have been avoided very simply.”

The leak, which occurred at the Kingsbury fuel terminal operated by BPA, triggered a significant clean-up operation. This included a specialist process to decontaminate the land.

Fuel rained down on the site

Warwick Crown Court heard how BPA is tasked with coordinating the flow of fuel to its customers by way of underground high pressure pipelines.

The incident occurred on 20th October, 2010, when the company commenced the pumping of petrol from a pipeline into a large storage tank on a nearby fuel storage site.

Approximately an hour and a half later alarms sounded. Operatives responded and upon investigating the site, found a fountain of fuel erupting from an overground section of pipe.

The HSE’s investigation revealed that the escape had been caused after a secondary line feeding into the main pipework broke loose.

The pipework involved had been reconfigured and replaced as part of a major engineering project finished only a week prior to the incident. Before being put into operation, the joints and fittings had not undergone a proper process of commissioning and testing.

Mr Nayar commented: “When plant is changed or modified it has to be tested and commissioned before being put into operation. That did not happen. If done properly it could have identified the fault.

“The leak posed two major hazards, a fire or a vapour cloud explosion. It is extremely fortunate that neither happened in this case as the outcome could have been much worse.”

British Pipeline Agency Ltd, of Alexandra Road, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, was fined £30,000 with costs of £58,606 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.