Shell faces charges over Bacton gas site fire

Energy giant Shell faces court action over a fire at its Bacton gas terminal nearly three years ago.

Charges for 'serious breaches' of environment and health safety legislation are being brought against the Shell (UK) Limited, it has been announced.

The prosecutions, jointly by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, come after months of investigations into an explosion in a waste water system at the North Norfolk site in February 2008.

More than 70 firefighters and nine fire engines dashed to the 5.45pm incident, when a huge column of smoke rose over the seaside skyline, watched by concerned local residents, who spoke about a noise 'like a bomb going off.'

Terminal bosses at the time said the emergency plans worked well and there was no threat to the local community. Shell operates part of the terminal which handles a third of the nation's gas supplies. Gas production operated at reduced power in the immediate aftermath of the fire while repairs were carried out.

A joint statement by the prosecuting bodies said an initial court hearing has been set for Norwich magistrates court on Thursday January 20.

It added that Shell had been notified it was going to be prosecuted on a range of charges.

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There were alleged breaches of sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Environmental charges were alleged breaches of Section 23 (1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act, and four alleged contraventions of Regulation 32(1)(b) of the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000.

There was also an alleged beach of Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999 which was a joint safety and environmental offence, the statement added.

Only last month local MP Norman Lamb voiced his impatience that the outcome of the investigation was taking so long, saying the nearly three year long wait was ludicrous, and was leaving local residents in limbo.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: 'The investigation necessarily took some time to conclude as it is very involved. It is important that investigations of this kind are thoroughly conducted to ensure that successful enforcement action can be taken if and as required.'