Plans for more fuel at Buncefield depot in Hemel Hempstead

The aftermath of the Buncefield explosion
The aftermath of the Buncefield explosion
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Petrol giant BP has said safety is its ‘first priority’– after plans for the firm to store more petrol at Buncefield were revealed this week.

The oil depot infamously exploded in December 2005 after a petrol tank was overfilled and formed a vapour cloud near ground level, which ignited and blew up.

The subsequent explosion could be heard more than 100 miles away, measured 2.4 on the Richter scale with the vicious flames burning for five days afterwards.

Although BP did not own or operate Buncefield at the time of the explosion, its plans for a neighbouring terminal at Buncefield have already received an objection from Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning.

The company does not require planning permission to store ground fuels on the site, although BP has said it has applied for planning permission for proposed safety enhancements.

A spokesman for BP told the Gazette: “BP has submitted an application to make changes at our Hemel terminal prior to storing ground fuels.

“The decision to convert the entire terminal to ground fuels meets the needs of our operations and customers.

“Safety, both of our employees and the local community, is our first priority. As part of this application we have proposed further safety measures at the site.

“BP’s Hemel terminal was damaged by the explosion at the neighbouring Buncefield site. Prior to reopening in 2008 we invested heavily in the site to fully implement the Process Safety

Leadership Group’s recommendations and made a number of upgrades relating to safety and protection of the environment.”

BP added that it was also requesting consent to store petrol in “one of the smaller tanks”, which it says would further reduce any risk on the site.

But the plans have not been welcomed by Conservative MP Mr Penning, who had only been an MP for the town for seven months prior to the explosion.

After meeting with BP officials last week, he said: “I told them in no uncertain terms that I categorically do not support increased storage of petrol at Buncefield.

“It was petrol vapours that caused the explosion back in 2005. They promised me then that they would not increase petrol storage.

“Storing oil on the site is a very different thing to storing petrol which is a very dangerous substance.”

A spokesman for Hertfordshire County Council, which oversees the county’s fire service, said: “The Health and Safety Executive is the main enforcing body for legislation linked to Buncefield.

“However Hertfordshire’s Fire and Rescue service continues to work closely with other members of the Local Resilience Forum and with the statutory bodies to ensure all necessary steps to ensure safe operation of Buncefield are undertaken."