Giant Blast at UK Oil Terminal

From the BBC:

Three large explosions have rocked a fuel depot near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire shooting flames hundreds of feet into the sky. Police say there are casualties and emergency services are at the scene. The first blast happened at 0603 GMT at the Buncefield fuel depot, close to junction 8 of the M1 motorway, 10 miles from Luton airport.

It is being treated as an accident and rumours that a plane was involved are unfounded, said a police spokesman.

Witnesses said another two explosions followed the first at 0626 GMT and 0627 GMT. Eyewitness Sam Matton, who lives half a mile from the depot, told BBC News: "The sky is sort of orange. The flames have got to be 60ft up in the air."

The area near the site has been evacuated, while police have advised residents living nearby to keep their windows and doors closed due to fumes. Many houses have been damaged, with some reporting feeling effects from the explosion as far away as Oxfordshire, while it was heard in Surrey and Norfolk.
Malcolm Stewart, who drives a tanker at the terminal, said there were 20 tanks on the site, each holding three million gallons of fuel.
If that last quote is accurate, that's around 1.4 million barrels of oil products.

Here's a map.

Hmm. Didn't Al Qaeda recently recommend targetting Western oil facilities?
Yes , Al Qaeda and a seperate one from Zarkazi(sp?)
They are quick to say that it is an accident. However, they don't say why it's an accident. Maybe they don't want to create a panic on the oil market tomorrow! I think it's probably too early to say anything on the real cause.
If one facility starts burning it is probably an accident.

Two or more at the same time is probably sabotage.

They may have cameras all over this place, and were able to watch and see the whole thing get started.  Just a guess though.
Here is the latest spin from Reuters

"There is nothing to suggest there will be a fuel shortage as a result of this," Whiteley said.

Mike Carlish, who lives less than 4 km (3 miles) from the Buncefield depot, near the commuter town of Hemel Hempstead, said he had been woken by a "blinding white flash" that had been powerful enough to knock plaster off the ceiling in his house.

"Smoke is spiralling over 200 feet into the air. It is not under control," he told Reuters by telephone.

A Reuters witness said the blast was heard as far away as northwest London, 40 km (25 miles) away.

Reuters article here

No fuel shortage?  

What kind of financial loss are we looking at here?

Facility + Product.  Is there any way to calculate that at this point?

How long does it take to build a fuel depo?

How long does it take to make 1.4 million barels of refinded product?

Ahhh crap!

I just checked EIA's latest backissue:

The UK had 107 mil bbl of oil stock in August.  Now, after discounting what they sent to us this fall, maybe 2% of their 'on hand' oil products just went up in smoke.  Hemel Hempstead looks to be off the M1, a major north-south route in England.  I cannot imagine there are many depots this large in the country.  

Does anyone know if natural gas was process or stored at this facility?

According to news reports, it was all gasoline at this depot.  They said it was the fifth largest depot in the country.
The BBC is reporting

The Buncefield depot is a major distribution terminal operated by Total and part-owned by Texaco, storing oil, petrol and well as kerosene which supplies airports across the region, including Heathrow and Luton
This had to be either explosives or a NG leak. I don't believe distillate or Av gas in cool temps at 6 am would provide this intense an explosion, unless an empty storage tank had fumed up over time, that's still a stretch. I doubt there is any processing going on at a storage facility, and gas sensors with alarms are everywhere.
It's a fact that a large fraction of the serious accidents at large chemical plants, oil refineries, oil and chemical terminals, etc. occur during either an on-site construction project or during major maintenance activities.

Such facilities have an inherently high risk, which is usually successfully managed, but at times people do screw up. During construction and maintenance there are many more opportunities for screwing up than during routine operations. A large empty space full of hydrocarbon vapors can make a pretty impressive boom.

I'm about 50 miles east of this fire; no sign of smoke but it seems to be heading up and westerly, over London and then the Netherlands/N Germany.

Lots of TV coverage (esp BBC News 24); 39 casualties, two seriously, M1 motorway closed -this is the main road from London to the Midlands/North. The please are primarily telling everyone not to panic and run out and buy fuel.

I'm not going to speculate on causes. The Provisional IRA did try to blow up a gas facility in Warrington in 1993.

I got my W. and E. wrong there. I'm west of the fire; the wind is blowing it east.
I can beat that. I am 25 miles east, south east of it. There was a large black cloud covering about half the sky, base level of the cloud must have been about 1,000 feet or higher but not that deep. Couldn't smell anything though. Didn't hear the blast either this morning. I find it hard to believe people in the Netherlands heard the blast. Must be funny atmospheric accoustics. During World War I, the guns firing on the front line in France could be heard in London though.
This is what I blogged from someone I know that lives maybe 17 miles SE of Hemel Hempstead.

Hemel Hempstead, UK, suffered through a huge oil explosion early this morning. I have visited this area several times and can't imagine what force this powderkeg unleashed. From notes I gathered from someone I know who lives less than 20 miles SE of HH, this thing essentially jolted everyone up, not quite as if an earthquake had occurred, but more like that something had fallen down in the house. The explosion set off a black cloud that moved southeast and then south reaching the outskirts of London in the early evening. The really thick black smoke had the faint whiff of benzene.

Hemel Hempstead resides right off the M1 expressway and has a residential feel with open spaces and farmland. Apparently, most of the buildings had their windows imploded with some roofs going up. The oil depot provided jet fuel to Heathrow and Luton airports (the latter just north of there). The most recent re-fueler truck stationed there happened to escape the major explosion. But cascading explosions also occurred which continued throughout the day.

Speaking of earthquakes

I checked to see if there were any more rumbles in the UK for potential terrorist attacks on any facilities.

Sounds like a dirty bomb scenario.Anyone checked for radioactivity in that black cloud?
Does anyone know how much of the UK refining capacity this represents? 1.4mb/d sounds like an extremely large ammount given the size of the UK.
AlexC: It was not a refinery it was a storage facility. Uk produces currently about 1.8 million barrels/day. So if all the tanks were full they lost less than a days production of oil. of course it would need to be refined to jet fuel first. So it ends up being about to days of distillate production
In terms of volume they are talking about 20 x 3 million UK gallon tanks on site - but not all have gone up (yet?). That's about 1.7 million barrels (remember UK gallons are larger) which is around one days UK oil consumption (or indigenous extraction which is about the same) so this could be thought of as decreasing UK oil extraction by 1/3 of a percentage point this year.  Not a huge deal but it all adds up when extraction is declining anyway.

We don't know the split between different products, if there's a high proportion of aviation fuel the airports could be affected most.

Whilst there's no fuel shortage (no refinery or terminal affected) this has to cause logistical problems. BBC News 24 just said Heathrow get around a third of their fuel from there via pipeline that is now shut and that they have 48 hrs of fuel stored at the airport. Is there the spare trucking capacity to compensate?

I understand LNG terminal fires are much worse than oil fires...

Airplanes can often compensate by fuelling up elsewhere; long haul flights do that anyway. So its UK/EU flights that would need to adapt by adding longer stopovers at some of their turnaround points.
If this turns out to be a sabotage, I'm starting to shiver from the perspectives ahead of the future LNG terminals...
I live about 30 miles, nearly due south, away. The blasts didn't wake me but I could see the thin dark clouds spreading this way by early afternoon. By late afternoon there was a definite sharp smell to the air from the smoke. Just been outside (at 21:20 GMT) and it seems clearer atm, the moon is visible and bright, but it sounds like 'the cloud' might cover much of southern England in the next day or two.

The BBC news website is probably the best bet for coverage, including video:

Some pertinent bits of data that I've heard which seem reliable:
This site is the 5th biggest of its type in UK, there are 43.
The site held several kinds of fuel: petrol (gasolene), diesel, aviation fuel.
Apparently the northern half of the site is burning, the southern half is not, so there is plenty of fuel that could still go up.

UK authorities are very adept at hiding the truth when they wish to. The 7th July tube bombings were being reported as 'electrical problems' for over 90 minutes till a live phone call said 'I just saw a bomb blow the top off a bus' (or words to that effect). But this time it seems near certain it was accidental ignition of gasolene fumes, I don't suspect terrorism.

Some lemming-humans (apologies, lemmings, for that unfair smear) are panic buying petrol just in case petrol panic buying causes shortages. Some smarter humans who run petrol stations have maybe deliberately shut to annoy these fools and perhaps sit behind smash proof windows at the closed petrol stations pulling funny faces at their disappointed customers.

Does it mean the raging hordes of Sauron are marching from the East? Almost certainly not, but if you live in Ithilien please seek a more local informed opinion.

A friend e-mailed me a comment about Mordor. Nice to see someone else seeing the pictures and thinking along similar lines.
Oh no! Someone's mind works a bit like mine, they have my sympathy. Knowing what I feel I know I have to descend into wry frivolity else I might cry ;-((

A bit more news has emerged:
"In total, 20 petrol tanks were involved, each said to hold three million gallons of fuel."

From this page which also has a diagram of the site comfirming that only the northern half has been consumed so far:

But use the main BBC UK news site for latest info.

If tankers can get in and out of there, draining the remaining storage tanks could be the smartest thing to do.  Then fill them with water.
What about the air pollution from this?  Any effect on the environment?

What about the drought in the Amazon and the deforestation taking place there?

Is this earth invincible to all this?

The fires after the first gulf war were far worse than this.  Yes it was an ecological disaster, but the world survived.

Now mind you, oil/gasoline/etc is toxic.  If it were me, I wouldn't be keen to hang around if I could smell something in the air.

Off Topic.

Cantarell has peaked. It's official from PEMEX - in spanish (hat tip APG from

"En los primeros cinco días de diciembre de este año, la producción total del Complejo Cantarell fue de 2.008 millones de barriles por día, representando 59 por ciento de la producción nacional...."

"In the first five days of december of this year, total prodcution from Cantarell complex was 2.008 millons of barrels per day, representing a 59% of national (mexican) production...."

"La estimación de nuestros modelos ..... indica que los niveles de producción en el complejo Cantarell para 2006 se ubicarán en 1.905 millones de barriles por día, aproximadamente.  Esta magnitud es 6 por ciento inferior respecto a la producción de 2005 de 2.032 millones de barriles por día, y es consistente con las proyecciones previas dadas a conocer por PEMEX.  Para los años 2007 y 2008, las producciones estimadas son de 1.683 y 1.430 millones de barriles por día, respectivamente......"

"The estimation from our models ... indicates that the production levels in the Cantarell complex will be aprox 1.905 millons of barrels per day by 2006. This magnitude is 6 % less than 2005 production of 2.032 mbd, and it is consistent with previous projections showed by PEMEX. For 2007 and 2008 estimated productions are 1.683 and 1.430 mbd, respectively...."

2.0 mbd 2005
1.9 mbd 2006
1.6 mbd 2008



2.0 mbd 2005
1.9 mbd 2006
1.6 mbd 2007
1.4 mbd 2008

Thank you. I think the Cantarell decline is the most important oil issue to the US, after the hurricanes. Mexico is our 2nd major source of imported oil, and most of theat comes from Cantarell. If history is a guide, PEMEX'x figures, bad enough, will be optimistic with a greater decline micu more likely, which has previously been discussed on TOD.
Sorry about the typos. Hit post when I wanted preview.
Thank you for the information. I have been looking out for these production figures. Do you have the web page of Pemex's latest production figures? Canterell is more important than a big bonfire north of London. My spanish is non existent, but I can guess some of the words and understand the numbers.
You can use BabelFish to Translate - it does a pretty good job with European Languages.
Thank you
Go to this page.

Then click on one of the following:

"Reporte Anual 2002"
"Reporte Anual 2003"
"Reporte Anual 2004"

A new window will be opened. It's in spanish and english.


Thank you
What to believe?

The BBC is stating

In total, 20 petrol tanks were involved, each said to hold three million gallons of fuel.

The AP via yahoo is stating

There were several blasts at Buncefield terminal, which stores 4 million gallons of gasoline, diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel, and officials warned that more could occur since it will take days to extinguish the inferno.

AFP via yahoo reports

Only seven of the 26 oil container tanks at the depot appeared to have escaped the flames.

The Total and Texaco oil depot was able to store 150,000 tonnes of various fuels and oil derivatives.

Reuters does not seem to be reporting numbers.  

Lack of good info?
Inaccurate reporting?  
All of the above?

Have there been any official statements regarding the volume of fuel involved?

If the Brits are anything like the Americans, don't rely on anything reported for several days or weeks. Remember the US Dept of Energy claiming minimal damage from Katrina before anyone knew anything? Spin,Spin,Spin
I am inclinded to believe in good old press inaccuracy. I would believe the Total and Texaco storing 150,000 tons if it came from their press people as hopefully the oil companies know what they have at their sites. The press are rushing out to be first with a story, the facts and accuracy of the story are down their list of priorities. Being first with the story is the most important part of the press nowadays. Why, I don't know. I want accurate stories. You will probably find the BBC trying to dramatize the explosion. My opinion of the BBC reporting is it is a bit like Corporal Jones running around like a headless chicken, shouting "Don't panic everyone. Don't panic" very loudly. They don't seem to do calm, thoughtful reporting nowadays. Pity really.
I am in a good postion to comment on the press in relation to this story because:

  1. I live very close to this depot and know quite well what is going on (much of the reporting is wildly inacurate or out of context!)

  2. I used to work at the BBC so have seen their sloppy reporting methods at first hand (BBC is far from the worst!)

Persoanly I think that journalists are just too slack. It is not the case that they deliberatlty feed us BS, more that they pass on the BS that they are given without checking the facts

Local news sources are best. Try: for this story

Re:  LNG by truck

Was anyone else aware that LNG is being transported by truck in the US?   I was in a small Texas Hill Country town this weekend, and I was dumbfounded to see an LNG truck driving down Main Street.

Yep, I've seen one before too, (and recently) in the metro Atlanta area.
The latest information on this event had the facility storing 4.6 million gallons of fuel stored in 26 tanks, of which 20 burned. Twelve of those are now extinguished.  The smoke pall from the fire has drifted as far as France.
Apparently all major fires, including all in the tanks, are now extinguished, expecting remaining minor fires to be put out this eve :-)
Good to hear that, Agric.  
I used to live in the UK as a youngster (Cirencester), and have only the fondest memories of you fellows across the pond.
I live in Hemel Hempstead a mere 2 miles from the Buncefeild depot, and know this site very well as have driven right past every day on my way to work for the last 10 years

This depot is large (by UK standards!) 100 acres is correct. I do not know the volume of fule stored, best source of info is site owners (Total) website. I do know the following:

The site stored petrol (gasoline) deisel and heating oil for delivery by road tanker to filling stations and homes.

The aviation fuel mostly goes by pipeline to Heathrow, but some does go by road to Luton.

There is no LPG or LNG storage at this depot

I was away on sunday, but i was awoken at about 6:05am by a phone call from my mother-in-law hystericaly telling us that a plane had crashed outside her house!

I saw the blaze last night and it is indeed spectacular, although latest reports say it is all but out by now.

I am sure that this will have quite a big impact on London. Hemel Hemepstead is a main stratigic distributuion point for much of the London area, being located on both M25 London outer ring road and M1 main North/South route (freeway).

This is not just about fuel; many production and disribution units have also been destroyed, as these were stupidly built recently right next to the fuel depot, so several major supermarkets and other retailers may also have big problems

My broadband is no longer working; the CATV headend has also been damaged. In Hemel you could not buy petrol, milk or bread today, but this is largely due to knee-jerk panic buying!

personaly I hope for some significant disruption; perhaps this will awaken some of the sleeping sheple to the dangers of our dependence on unreiable fuel suplies

Just heard on UK radio that there is airplane fuel rationing at Heathrow airport due to the Buncefield fire. Planes are being allowed between 40% and 85% of their normal fuel, not seen any online details yet.

Not surprising, so much for the tosh a few days ago about there being no supply problems due to the fire.