Total drops key Buncefield defence

Total UK has dropped a major part of its defence against liability for the Buncefield disaster. Residents and businesses affected by the December 2005 explosion on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead are now closer to receiving compensation.

The civil case to determine who should pay for the damage wrought by the December 2005 blast began in early October. Total operated and is the majority owner of the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd (HOSL) site, while Chevron owned 40%.

Total had maintained that HOSL was only liable for damage within 451 metres of the site. Damage beyond this zone, it argued, could not have been foreseen.

But court reports in the Financial Timessay Total abandoned this position on the fourth day of the trial, leaving it exposed to a potential bill for damages approaching £1 billion. The company argues that Chevron, as partners in HOSL, should shoulder part of the burden.

Total has also settled on a confidential basis its claim against TAV engineering. TAV made a switch that failed to automatically stop a petrol storage tank over-filling, which might have prevented the incident.

The High Court ruled in May that the negligence of an HOSL duty supervisor contributed to the disaster (ENDS Report 401, p 67 ). The explosion injured 43 people and cast a cloud of smoke over a swathe of southern England (ENDS Report 371, p 6 ). The perfluorinated foams used by firefighters to tackle the blaze also led to groundwater pollution (ENDS Report 395, p 19 ).

A Total UK representative told ENDS the court was examining expert witnesses on 5 November. The hearing continues.

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