If this happens, the oil can cause severe and long term damage. Major incidents can arise due to a variety of scenarios, such as accidents during the handling of industrial bulk containers (IBCs), or from the lack of routine inspection and maintenance of a fixed storage tank or its secondary containment.
A small quantity of oil can affect a large area - it takes just 5 litres to cover a stretch of water the size of two football pitches - and the ‘polluter pays’ principle for environmental damage means that an organisation or individual held responsible can find themselves liable for the vast costs associated with remedying such situations.
Oil that gets into soil can spread, causing gradual contamination of large areas and any groundwater and other water courses that it reaches. Once it’s in water, oil will form a surface film that reduces the level of oxygen in the water, destroying habitats and presenting a serious threat to aquatic life; it also has the potential to reach public water supplies and sewerage treatment works.
Anyone who has control of oil storage facilities, including tanks, drums, IBCs and mobile bowsers, need to comply with the relevant regulations for their region of the UK. There is a range of different regulations applicable to the use and control of oil and which vary between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but they all place duties on those responsible for industrial, commercial, agricultural and institutional premises to prevent pollutants from escaping into a watercourse.