BP could not have reasonably foreseen a chain of events which caused oily water to pollute the sea at Sullom Voe, a sheriff ruled on Thursday.
The oil company was acquitted after a trial at Lerwick Sheriff Court in relation to the event on 7th October 2008 when heavy rain and a faulty valve system and alarm on a large water tank combined to cause the oily water to overflow from the terminal’s elaborate water-cleaning system.
Craig Connal QC for BP successfully argued that the company could not have predicted the combination of events and Sheriff Derek Livingston accepted that the pollution was an accident rather than an event which might have been avoided by maintenance or other procedures.
However, he agreed with the Crown that, despite BP’s claims, the rainfall had not been particularly exceptional on the day in question.
Meanwhile, local contractor MK Leslie was fined £3,500 at the court for causing pollution of the sea and land near Scalloway in October 2008.
The company admitted lifting a rusty oil tank by forklift at its new depot below the Scord quarry, causing it to rupture and leak 2,000 litres of lubricating oil into the environment. One kittiwake is known to have died from oil contamination.
The tank had been left at the former depot by a previous owner. Other debris and oil was removed three years previously when MK Leslie acquired the site and hired in a specialist contractor.
Defence agent Tommy Allan said it had been assumed that the tank no longer contained oil and it was only when it was lifted that it was discovered to be heavy.
He said the tank did not appear to be leaking when it was set down again but the pollution was discovered during the night.
MK Leslie spent £25,000 on its clean-up efforts but it also faces a £75,000 bill from the council for the work it paid for. The court heard that MK Leslie was in dispute with its insurance company which will not cover the cost. It was the third pollution fine for the company in the past eight years.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) investigating officer Duncan Goudie said afterwards: “Failure to provide bunding for this oil tank and to carry out appropriate maintenance on the tank resulted in the pollution of the East Voe at Scalloway.
“Sepa would urge members of the public to inform us of any pollution incident as soon as possible so that early investigations and effective action can be taken. Guidance on the storage of oil and the prevention of pollution are available from Sepa.”