I know it’s only a few hours since the Buncefield oil storage depot exploded, but I’d like to jump in already and hazard a guess as to what the primary cause was. The immediate cause will no doubt be something like a leaky joint and an unexpected spark; but the primary cause will probably end up being reactionary maintenance policies: engineers being instructed not to replace anything until after it’s already broken.
This is entirely a guess on my part, I must say. However, most of the fuel
stored burning at Buncefield is piped there from the Lindsey refinery, owned and run by Total, the same company that runs Buncefield. And, coincidentally, just the other day I was chatting to a friend of mine who works there. Total had just been fined £12,500 for a serious oil leak at Lindsey, and we started talking about how it had been caused.
“We don’t do preventative maintenance any more,” he told me. “Lindsey’s idea of maintenance is: wait until something starts leaking, then patch it up.” Which, when you don’t catch it in time, leads to nasty leaks. Some of them, like the one at Lindsey, are just pollution problems; others go up in flames. If the sort of maintenance regime used at Lindsey is standard at Buncefield too, it’s easy to guess what the cause of today’s explosion may have been.