Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the investigation?
- Why is there a Board?
- Do you know yet how and why the explosion happened?
- Who’s to blame?
- The continuing investigation
- Will there be a public Inquiry?
- Will Buncefield be rebuilt?
- Does the site currently present any risk?
- Is there any fuel left on site?
- What is going on on-site at the moment?
The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) used its formal powers to require an investigation and the making of a special report. The investigation is being undertaken jointly by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (EA). The Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board (MIIB) was set up to supervise the investigation.
The investigation has been asked to find out what happened at Buncefield, how and why, and make recommendations for the future. There are 8 terms of reference, which are available at the end of each progress report.
There are three inquiries taking place as part of the investigation: the criminal investigation; a review of the EA and HSE’s policies and procedures for regulating the activities on this site; and to identify the root causes of the incident and the lessons to be learned in controlling onsite and offsite risks at sites such as Buncefield.
The Board was established to ensure that the investigation is carried out effectively and the best professional advice is available to find out what happened and why.
There are three independent members, including the Chair, Lord Newton of Braintree. The other two independent members are experts in key areas of interest, namely fire and explosions and occupational and environmental medicine. This is the first time that an independent Chair has been asked to oversee a major incident investigation of this kind.
The three progress reports make clear that overfilling of a fuel storage tank (Tank 912) led to an escape of fuel (now known to be unleaded petrol). This in turn led to the formation of a cloud of flammable vapour that subsequently ignited. Further work is continuing to identify why the overfilling took place and what caused the subsequent explosion to be so powerful.
The Investigation Board published an Initial Report in July 2006, which summarises progress with the investigation and identifies several areas for continuing work.
The Investigation Board recognises that both residents and businesses are concerned to know the root causes of the explosions and fires as soon as possible.
The investigation into the causes of the incident will feed into the ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation will decide whether there are grounds to pursue criminal proceedings. This is a matter for HSE and EA, not the Investigation Board. Until that time, which could be some months away, neither the Board nor the investigators can make public statements regarding responsibility.
Good progress is being made with the investigation. The initial Report published by the Investigation Board in July 2006, identifies several areas of concern arising from the Investigation. These relate to the design and operation of storage sites; the emergency response to incidents; and the advice given to planning authorities about risks to proposed developments around Depot sites similar to Buncefield. Action is already underway on all these areas.
Further reports could be published in the next few months, depending on the timing of developments and legal considerations.
The devastation of the site and the resulting difficulties in collecting evidence make Buncefield more difficult to investigate than most major incidents. Most of the on-site forensic work is now complete but there is still some complex work to be done before we can answer all the important questions. The investigation is continuing to look at why failures occurred, the underlying root causes and why the explosion was so violent. Some of the information from this part of the investigation may be relevant to the criminal investigation. This work is likely to go on for some time yet. It is important to take the time to get the right answers.
The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) took the decision that an investigation supervised by an independent Board would be the quickest and most suitable means to fully understand and make public what happened at Buncefield and to take steps to help prevent recurrence. This approach has been very successful, producing four reports in quick succession.
This does not rule out the possibility of a public inquiry, if the investigation reveals the need for one.
Large parts of the depot have been destroyed and are inoperable. Rebuilding on these parts of the site will require the relevent consents from Dacorum Borough Council. It will also require a pre-construction safety report to be submitted for the HSE and EA’s consideration. The operators, HOSL and BPA, are in discussion with Dacorum B C and HSE about the future of their sites.
The BP part of the site, furthest from the fire, escaped with very limited damage, but is currently out of operation. BP has announced that it is exploring plans for the future use of their part of the site. They have indicated a number of priorities, including as reopening the fuel pipelines to Heathrow, and the possibility of using part of their site both to store aviation fuel and as a distribution centre for motor fuel, but on a much-reduced level.
BP have submitted further risk assessments to the HSE and EA to ensure that safety and environment protection measures are satisfactory for renewed operations. These are currently being assessed. Depending on the type of activity planned, BP may need to obtain the appropriate planning consents from Dacorum Borough Council.
While the Buncefield depot site remains non-operational, offsite risks are much lower than before the explosion on 11th December 2005. The remediation work on-site is subject to strict controls and ongoing risk assessments to ensure that the offsite risks from this work are also much lower than before the 11th December explosion. HSE can see no reason why businesses and employees should have concerns that the Buncefield depot in its current state poses undue risks to their safety.
All unconfined fuel has been removed. Demoltion of damaged tanks and equipment is continuing.
All physical evidence required for examination by the Investigation has been removed from Buncefield. On the HOSL and BPA sites, dismantling of tanks and equipment, and the cleaning of the site will continue to take place over the coming months under stringent controls of construction regulations.
On the relatively undamaged part of the site to the south, BP has removed fuel held there since the incident in December, to allow further inspection of the tanks. The site remains out of operation although work continues in order to bring the site back into service.