Slick fine for River Tyne oil pollution

Two Gateshead companies were today fined a total £28,000, after pleading guilty to causing an oil slick on the River Tyne.

Brett Oils Limited and Brett Oils Business Services Limited of Pipewellgate, Gateshead, were each fined £14,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,100 each to the Environment Agency, which brought the case at Gateshead Magistrates Court.

Trevor Cooper, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, told the court how on 16 March 2006, the Environment Agency received a report that there was a large oil slick on the River Tyne.

An Environment Agency officer got a lift with Eagle Helicopters at Newcastle Heliport to get a view of the slick by from the air, and saw a significant amount of iridescence on the river which stretched from Gateshead Riverside to the confluence with the River Derwent.

Over four kilometres of the River Tyne was affected by the pollution, which could potentially have caused harm to birds and fish.

Brett Oils Limited, the first defendant and owner of the yard, has a Consent to Discharge from the Environment Agency, which allows site drainage to be discharged from the West Yard at Pipewellgate, Gateshead into the River Tyne. This consent is subject to conditions, one of which says that the discharge cannot contain any visible signs of oil.

The Environment Agency officer attended the yard, which is operated by the second defendant, Brett Oils Business Services Limited. The officer found that the site was being used as a transport yard, where vehicles were being washed down.

The site had an interceptor, which prevents oil from escaping, however, the interceptor had become blocked and filled up, so oil ran into the Tyne.

A director of the first defendant, Brett Oils Limited,  was interviewed on 12 July 2006 and said that the operations manager, who had responsibility for operating the maintenance of the site, had been made redundant, but nobody thought about the maintenance of the oil interceptor after his departure.

A director of the second defendant, Brett Oils Business Services Limited, was interviewed on 25 May 2006, and accepted that there had been a blockage in the oil interceptor, and that it should have been checked.

The oil had a significant visable impact on the Tyne, and could have proved very harmful to aquatic birds and fish.

In mitigation, the first defendant, Brett Oils Limited, said the quantity of the oil was a small amount, but accepted that by not maintaining the oil interceptor, it was an environmental incident waiting to happen.

The second defendant, Brett Oils Business Services Limited, said it had the responsibility to ensure that the interceptor is checked, and should have been aware of the possible consequences.

The defendants entered an early guilty plea, and have no previous environmental offences. No environmental clean up was required.

The magistrates’ said both companies had acted in a reckless breach of the law, and the oil had spread a considerable distance causing potential environmental harm.

Speaking after the case, Graham Siddle, environment management team leader at the Environment Agency said: “This oil slick could have caused serious harm to aquatic birds and fish.

“Brett Oils Limited and Brett Oils Business Services Limited failed to operate this site responsibly. We’ll always aim to prosecute businesses or individuals that don’t operate with the necessary precautions in place.”