Thursday, 5 July 2012

Gas Fire 1982

Deputy Fire Chief Brian Mallett, 1982 (later became Chief Officer)

On 12.40 on the 19th March 1982, there was an explosion at the Gas Company in Tunnell Street. BBC Radio Jersey had just started broadcasting, and new BBC Jersey reporter Mike Vibert received word that there was an exposition at the Gas Company in Tunnell Street. In those days there were no radio cars, so it was on with the bicycle clips, and off on his bicycle to cover the explosion.

The Deputy Fire Chief was Brian Mallett, and he who led the team which heroically tackled the gas explosion, suffering burns to his face and hands when there was a fireball explosion at the site. Despite the burns to his hands, which affected the nerve endings, giving him ongoing problems, he always played his role in the incident down by saying that others caught up in it had suffered far worse injuries than him

After the incident, questions were asked about the Kosangas site at St. John, about safety issues, as planning permission for housing was being refused because of safety risks. Because of the potentially catastrophic results of a fire involving liquefied petroleum gas, after the Tunnell Street incident, the Island Development Committee were particularly sensitive to issues of public safety. They were advised specifically that, within 300 metres of the liquid petroleum gas storage plant, a category of development that included housing should not be granted planning permission.

A Health and Safety Executive's report for the Kosangas site, stated that: "The Health and Safety Executive consider that the risks to the public from the site are low, however we would advise the States of Jersey that it would be prudent not to increase the number of people exposed to this low risk ". 

This was kept low key, and permission was just turned down, because the Planning Committee chose not to give widespread publicity to the risk assessment because of the sensitivity of the matter in the wake of the Tunnell Street fire. It did not wish to create panic or undue concern for they considered to be "low risk".

Clearly a different policy applied when housing was developed in recent years in Tunnell Street, close to the gas holder there, which would also be assessed at low risk.!

As a result of the assessments, States policy became to ensure that all gas was relocated to Gas holders to La Collette. But in 2007, Deputy Kevin Lewis raised concerns about risks there. He also mentioned the Buncefield fire, a major conflagration caused by a series of explosions on 11 December 2005 at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, an oil storage facility located near the M1 motorway by Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, England.

He asked: Following the Buncefield oil depot disaster and the gas explosion in Tunnell Street in 1982, what steps, if any, is the Minister taking to ensure the safety of the La Collette area in light of the proposal to locate the new Energy from Waste plant adjacent to the gas holding tanks, the fuel farm, the L.P.G. (liquefied petroleum gas) station, the power station and the composting site?

Deputy G.W.J. de Faye of St. Helier (The Minister for Transport and Technical Services): I realise that some Members consider oral questions to be a bit of a knockabout session but I think States Members should take the questions they put with seriousness and a degree of responsibility. I am disappointed that Deputy Lewis, in dealing with this serious subject, has not seen fit to discuss the matter prior to today with either myself or, as far as I am aware, any senior member of my department. We are, therefore, at a loss to understand why the Deputy conflates the matters that occurred at the gas emplacement in Tunnell Street in 1982 with the La Collette site.

The public are concerned about these matters and conflating these issues is, I think, a serious error. To look on the bright side, it may be that the Deputy has been watching too many of his disaster movies but I think the Deputy should be aware that when the public are aware of these types of questions they can create alarm. I wish to assure the House that in general response to the Deputy's question I have taken all appropriate steps with the appropriate authorities and experts to ensure safety at La Collette. The current planning application is subject to guidelines that were brought forward in the 1999 report by the Major Hazards Unit of the U.K. Health and Safety Executive. I am fully confident that everybody involved who takes responsibility for safety in relation to La Collette, the L.P.G. station, the power station, the composting site, and who will do in terms of the E.f.W. (Energy from Waste) plant, take their jobs extremely seriously and that safety is not a major issue.

2.5.1 Deputy K.C. Lewis: I am saddened that the Minister is disappointed but I consider it my job to ensure that public safety is ensured. Accidents do happen. We cannot eliminate accidents; we can just minimise them. Will the Minister ensure that there are sufficiently high buffering mounds between the various facilities to provide maximum safety?

Deputy G.W.J. de Faye: If I am advised that buffering mounds are what is required I will certainly ensure that buffering mounds are in place. I repeat once again, I am disappointed with the way the Deputy has put this question. There is absolutely no linkage whatsoever between the gas explosion in Tunnell Street in 1982 -over 20 years ago -and the types of risk assessment and safety procedures that are in hand now. I regret to say that this is a piece of political opportunism that amounts to scare-mongering.

2.5.2 Deputy G.C.L. Baudains of St. Clement: I am disappointed with the Minister's answers and his cavalier attitude. Is the Minister familiar with the phrase of having all one's eggs in one basket?

Deputy G.W.J. de Faye: Yes, I am familiar with that phrase, Sir.

Deputy G.C.L. Baudains: In that case, what is he going to do about it?

Deputy G.W.J. de Faye: I am afraid I do not have any eggs in stock at the moment, Sir.

2.5.3 Deputy C.H. Egré of St. Peter: If I could add confirmation through the Minister. Could the Minister confirm that there is ongoing risk assessment for that area and we are moving forward, other than what happened in 1999?

Deputy G.W.J. de Faye: Yes, I can confirm that in conjunction with the Planning Department, Fire and Rescue Services and the Health and Safety Inspectorate, the Transport and Technical Services Department is currently considering all aspects of the long-term plans for development of the La Collette 2 site, which includes the potential for hazard by the location of the L.P.G. plant and the fuel depot.

I was once told by someone who knew about these things (Buncefield 'veteran') that if La Collette went up, it would "take the top off St Thomas's Church". So, we built an incinerator right next door. Is it any wonder that certain folks would like to see the 'Fuel Farm' (what an odd expression) relocated to Les Minquiers?"

A Facebook friend told me:

I was once told by someone who knew about these things (Buncefield 'veteran') that if La Collette went up, it would "take the top off St Thomas's Church". So, we built an incinerator right next door. Is it any wonder that certain folks would like to see the 'Fuel Farm' (what an odd expression) relocated to Les Minquiers?"

Perhaps it is time to publicise what risk assessment has been produced for La Collette?

1 comment:

James said...

If anyone ever wanted sufficient reason to take away Jersey's much-vaunted status as a crown dependency and reduce it to - say - the level of an English district council, the three words "Guy", "de", and "Faye" would be more than sufficient...