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Liverpool Echo: Oil giant Shell fined £260,000 for Stanlow gas leak scare

Stanlow Shell Oil Refinery Ellesmere Port

Stanlow Oil Refinery at Ellesmere Port

Mar 13 2008 by Nick Coligan, Liverpool Echo

OIL giant Shell has been fined more than £260,000 for a potentially fatal gas leak from its Stanlow plant.

Twenty tonnes of a highly flammable toxic substance escaped through a corroded pipe, forming a cloud 50ft above the Ellesmere Port complex.

The company, which employs 800 people at Stanlow, admitted in a report how the incident could have caused “multiple fatalities” and damaged buildings over a “significant area”.  Stanlow Oil Refinery at Ellesmere Port

It also said further explosions could have caused a major fire, leading to “catastrophic damage”.

Yesterday, Shell was fined almost £267,000 and ordered to pay costs of £37,000 after admitting failing to take the necessary measures to prevent a major accident.

Safety experts accused the multi-billion pound firm of not properly inspecting a pressure relief pipe, which corroded and eventually fractured.

Chester crown court heard how 20 tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), mixed with 150kg of hydrogen fluoride, escaped into the atmosphere on May 29, 2003.

Officials from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspected Stanlow, concluding Shell lost control of corrosion processes within the pipe to such an extent that “failure became inevitable”.

Inspector Alan Graham said: “This was a major incident which placed many company employees and others at risk.

“Although there was no ignition on this occasion, in different circumstances there could have been an explosion.

“It was our case that the gas escape was caused by Shell’s failure to properly inspect and maintain the pipe.

“This failure caused a jet of gas, which formed a cloud, which was seen to drift 10 to 15 metres above the site.

“The gas cloud was kept under observation until it dispersed.”

Stanlow general manager Yuri Sebregts said: “We responded quickly after the event and co-operated fully with the HSE in its investigation. Changes were made to the plant and procedures to ensure the problem will not re-occur. Nevertheless, we regret the incident.

“We were pleased the judge recognised there was no suggestion of putting profit before safety or the deliberate running of risks, and he pointed out a recent independent audit rated the Stanlow plant as one of the safest of its kind in the world. Since the incident, we have invested £5.5m in Stanlow to make improvements.”

Stanlow refinery opened in 1924 and now processes up to 11m tonnes of crude oil a year.

Oil is transferred to the 1,900-acre site by pipeline from the Tranmere terminal on the River Mersey.

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http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/03/13/oil-giant-shell-fined-260-000-for-stanlow-gas-leak-scare-100252-20615112/

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