Contractors fined after spill threatens water supplies

Two contractors have been fined after an oil leak from an underground pipe threatened public water supplies and polluted groundwater.

On 29 September Blandford magistrates heard that Woodstone Construction and Ken Biggs Contractors had been working on Urless Farm, near Corscombe in Dorset, which consisted of a substantial country house and estate that were being redeveloped. The estate had several underground springs feeding into an ornamental lake and a stream.

In January 2007, Ken Biggs Contractors reported to the Environment Agency that heating oil had been spilled after an underground pipe was disconnected during demolition work. About 5,500 litres of oil had been lost.

The Agency put an oil-absorbent boom across the lake and warned local authorities and Wessex Water of the pollution threat. The site was just five miles upstream of a reservoir supplying drinking water to the Yeovil area.

Two months later an investigation found that the damage had occurred even though the fuel pipe had been laid according to oil storage regulations. The site’s own groundwater supply had been polluted but there were no off-site consequences.

Woodstone Construction (SW) Ltd and Ken Biggs Contractors Ltd pleaded guilty to causing oil to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991. Woodstone was fined £3,000 with costs of £2,000 and Ken Biggs was fined £1,500 with costs of £1,249. The site’s clean-up costs were put at £60,000 which was met by the contractors’ insurance.

"This incident highlights how important it is for main contractors and their subcontractors to carry out full risk assessments before carrying out groundworks near oil storage tanks and pipes," an Agency spokesman said.