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Financial Times: UK warns on panic buying after oil blast: Posted Monday 12 December 2005


By Thomas Catan in London


Authorities in the UK urged motorists to avoid panic buying of petrol after the country’s fifth largest oil depot, north of London, was largely destroyed by a huge explosion on Sunday.


Oil companies were scrambling to find alternative ways to supply customers served by the Buncefield oil terminal in Hertfordshire, which include Heathrow and Gatwick airports as well as many petrol stations in the North London area.


Officials emphasised that any disruption “should be minimal” and called for restraint after long lines formed outside some local petrol stations.


“We can expect some disruption [to supplies] but we have got contingency plans to cover supply to the terminal and also to our end-users – our customers,” said Total, the French oil company that jointly owns the terminal with ChevronTexaco of the US.


Oil industry officials said there was no indication yet of what caused the explosion. However, an eyewitness interviewed on television said he smelt strong fumes on the site in the minutes before the blast.


Buncefield is one of three main terminals supplying oil products to the Greater London area. It is served by a pipeline from three of Britain’s main refineries: Total’s Lindsey refinery in Lincolnshire, Shell’s Stanlow refinery in Merseyside and BP’s refinery at Coryton on the Thames estuary.


Pipelines carry jet fuel from Buncefield to Heathrow and Gatwick airports. However, BAA, the airports operator, said it did not expect to suffer any supply disruptions as a result of the blast.


The British Pipeline Agency, which operates most of the pipelines on the site, said it was acting to reroute pipelines to avoid the terminal.


“I would be lying if I said it doesn’t disrupt us because it’s a serious event and quite an unusual one,” a spokesman said. He said the full extent of any damage to its pipeline network would not be clear until the fire died down and an inspection could be carried out.


The complex also stored petrol, diesel, paraffin and gas oil for industrial and agricultural use. It contained 72,000 cubic metres of petroleum products, and 400 road tankers were loaded each day around the clock. 


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