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British Oil Depot Fire
December 11, 2005 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Huge explosion rocks UK countryside. Police say the oil depot explosion appears to be an accident, even though Al-Qaeda called for attacks on the oil industry just a few days ago. (As usual, the media feels the need to report this, even though Al-Qaeda was speaking of Gulf oil targets, and nothing of this scale could have been implented in just a few days)
Some pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
posted by empath (64 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Where have I seen this before?

Oh, yeah.
posted by eriko at 3:00 PM on December 11, 2005


As usual, the media feels the need to report this, even though Al-Qaeda was speaking of Gulf oil targets, and nothing of this scale could have been implented in just a few days

Uh huh

also: [old]
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2005


been looking at the reuters photos all day.

why exactly couldn't this be planned in just a few days, and why does a statement from Al-Qaeda only mean to serve as inspiration, rather than, say a signal to act?

know your enemy.
posted by Busithoth at 3:03 PM on December 11, 2005


Were those cars in the first couple of pics thrown all the way from the blast site?
posted by thirdparty at 3:05 PM on December 11, 2005


Terror attacks are supposed to cause terror, Busithoth. 6am on a Sunday is not Terror Time.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:06 PM on December 11, 2005


Eh, why wouldn't the media report "the largest such incident in European peacetime history"? (quote from BBC)
posted by keijo at 3:06 PM on December 11, 2005


I just didn't really get the editorialising of this FPP.
posted by keijo at 3:07 PM on December 11, 2005


You could hear the blast all over London, we had our windows shaking and car alarms going off 10 miles away from the area.
posted by hugsnkisses at 3:09 PM on December 11, 2005


There's a load of amazing photos of this on Flickr, as you might imagine. The combination of thick black smoke, clear skies and an autumnal sun have created some lovely lighting conditions.
posted by chill at 3:09 PM on December 11, 2005


So then, what's your point?
posted by HTuttle at 3:10 PM on December 11, 2005


How the hell did that not kill anyone? Wow.
posted by AspectRatio at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2005


But then again, if it were AQ, wouldn't they attack when there were people in the plant and the surrounding industrial estate? Could have killed a couple of hundred, at least, if it had happened on Monday morning. I'm not convinced.

I come from Hemel Hempstead (the town in which the oil depot is/was), and went for a temp job there one summer vacation. It is an absolutely HUGE site - no wonder there was such a big bang. It woke up a friend who lives 50 miles away.

My dad is buried about 200m away from the edge of the depot site, at the municipal cemetery. I'm thinking I should probably head over there some weekend soon to check that things are OK.
posted by athenian at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2005


Hey, I bet that Nigerian plane crash was that damned Al Queda too. And the Tsunami - it has their dirty finger prints all over it. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Osama shot JFK.
posted by Jimbob at 3:18 PM on December 11, 2005


Re: flickr and the lighting conditions - you're certainly right there chill - I was shooting a family portrait on the Millennium Bridge today and it was luuurvely. (somewhat relevant self-link here). Those black "clouds" behind St Paul's are oil smoke.
posted by LondonYank at 3:20 PM on December 11, 2005


Al Qaeda did WTC
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:21 PM on December 11, 2005


(As usual, the media feels the need to report this, even though Al-Qaeda was speaking of Gulf oil targets, and nothing of this scale could have been implented in just a few days)

Please, please simply LEAVE OUT THE EDITORIALIZING in your front page posts. Thank you.
posted by mediareport at 3:21 PM on December 11, 2005


"Until next time, this is Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok sayin' 'May the Good Lord take a likin' to ya and blow you up real good!' "
posted by killdevil at 3:22 PM on December 11, 2005


AQ? oh please.

It's already been said over and over that its HIGHLY unlikely.

Firstly, on a sunday morning the place would have been deserted with only around 8 staff (mostly security).
The only people who would have been working there would have been truckers coming in to fill their tankers to take fuel to the petrol stations.

Secondly, its only a storage depot. Not a refinary. All this means is that your fuel will be coming from somewhere else tomorrow, there wont be any shortage.

Petrol is flamable. It explodes. Just because it exploded doesnt mean it was an attack. Its just what petrol does.
posted by lemonfridge at 3:23 PM on December 11, 2005


Many schools and county council facilities will be closed tomorrow ... The decision to close the schools has been taken after seeking expert advice about the plume of smoke above the blaze and the potential risk to health, and the likelihood of severe traffic congestion.

The council has also decided to close day centres, libraries, the household waste site and other county council buildings in the Hemel area.


Intruiging or terrifying, just how paranoid are you again?
posted by hugsnkisses at 3:24 PM on December 11, 2005


Indeed. Every report I've read so far, mostly from the BBC and the highly respected Australian ABC, says that this was an accident, not terrorism.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:25 PM on December 11, 2005


Well said lemonfridge.
posted by Zulq at 3:26 PM on December 11, 2005


A friend of mine is about 3 miles away from the depot, she said it was astoundingly loud and forceful enough to crack the walls in her house.

The pictures have been astounding. I'm amazed that everyone lived.
posted by dejah420 at 3:28 PM on December 11, 2005


We live in Kent (on the borders of SE of London) and saw the smoke come over about mid day and lasted for a good few hours. Quite bizzare to see. I'd only been in bed about an hour after a night out when the explosion happened but it woke my housemate up.
posted by floanna at 3:29 PM on December 11, 2005


I'm firmly on the side of "nothing to suggest anything other than an accident" but, just hypothetically, if this was a deliberate act (by Al Qaeda or anyone else) would it actually be terrorism? I mean, this could be concidered a strategically relevent site, and there were a bare minimum of casualities and, so far, no casualties. That would seem to be leaning much more towards legitimate guerilla warfare than terrorism.
posted by adamt at 3:30 PM on December 11, 2005


Gah. That second 'casualties' should be 'fatalities'.
posted by adamt at 3:33 PM on December 11, 2005


There's a load of amazing photos of this on Flickr, as you might imagine. The combination of thick black smoke, clear skies and an autumnal sun have created some lovely lighting conditions.
posted by chill at 5:09 PM CST on December 11 [!]


I don't know how you could possibly call this 'lovely'. This is a disgusting act of vomitting into our environment that could've been avoided had there been proper measures in place to keep this from happening. So now, we have millions of gallons of putrid smoke reaching up into the air, probably causing all manner of health problems not only from the oil burned, but all the other chemicals and materials at the facility. Lovely indeed.
posted by cellphone at 3:38 PM on December 11, 2005


What can I say, I like to accentuate the positive is all.
posted by chill at 3:44 PM on December 11, 2005


petrol: it explodes
posted by elpapacito at 3:57 PM on December 11, 2005


"I sat down and all of a sudden there was a huge orange light and a massive explosion which blew the doors through and knocked me off my chair, and the ceiling fell in,"

Explosifites, my hypothesis is : accumulation of gas, huge fuel-air mixture and ensuing explosion. What could cause that in a deposit, probably and possibily designed to prevent such accumulations ?
posted by elpapacito at 4:00 PM on December 11, 2005


elpapacito, that's very possible. vapor cloud explosions can result from slow leaks, especially on a cold morning or overnight...
posted by anthill at 4:11 PM on December 11, 2005


For the record, I wasn't donning tin foil hat and saying it was AQ, just know your enemy.
posted by Busithoth at 4:16 PM on December 11, 2005


elpapacito, you're probably right about that, and it's probably the result of poor maintenance. All of those seals, gaskets and valves wear out and it's difficult to predict if and when they might fail catastrophically.
posted by snsranch at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2005


Firstly, on a sunday morning the place would have been deserted with only around 8 staff (mostly security).

Which means it would be easier to attack, and look at the panic buying of gas, the huge fog cloud, the traffic snarls. If it was an attack, it was pretty damn effective.

Folks, I'm not saying that this is an attack, but what happened to the US economy after Katarina was very obvious, then a stated threat against oil facilities, then this? There's a really good reason people are thinking "attack." It's called "Wow, threat of attack, then huge fucking explosion. Hmmm."

The damn thing is still burning, for fuck's sake. They havn't done an investigation. They haven't even started attacking the fire -- they're still trying to gather the 250,000 pounds of firefoam concentrate they'll need to attack it with. The fragments of the detonator could be sitting in what's left of the rental truck that blew this place to hell. Or, the valve that some idiot left open that blew this play to hell might be there. We don't know, because nobody has looked yet, mainly because they'd die if they tried.

They know no more about what cause this explosion than I do. Calling this "not an attack" is very dubious at this time. Calling this "not an attack" is exactly as stupid, for the exact same reasons, as calling this "an attack."

And if the UK police are saying this isn't a terroist attack, I'd start thinking otherwise in a hurry. They've got a very bad record in identifying terrorists.
posted by eriko at 4:31 PM on December 11, 2005


what eriko said. Oil is vital to our economy and our societies--they're built on it. Bad people know that too.
posted by amberglow at 4:41 PM on December 11, 2005


It's also why the 9/11 comission gave Bush a failing grade at protecting infrastructure and power facilities, and it's why we have American soldiers guarding Iraq's oil facilities.
posted by amberglow at 4:42 PM on December 11, 2005


We still don't know many facts ..or any facts at all. Beware of catastrophic = caused deliberately by man.

For instace the Shuttle explosion during take off was caused, if my memory doesn't fail me, by a defective plastic o-ring that was subjected to an unusual thermal stress.

A goddamn o-ring and a combination of factors (including explosive liquids being cointained by the o-ring) made quite a dramatic and tragic event happen. Same could be happening in UK.
posted by elpapacito at 4:47 PM on December 11, 2005


Fucking hell, things do explode without Al Queda being involved you know...
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on December 11, 2005


elpapacito, yea, I'm still with you man! You and maintenence issues.

Artw; you made my first big laugh today! Thanks, and I agree!
posted by snsranch at 5:04 PM on December 11, 2005


the Challenger thing was caused by people, elpapa--the shuttle was sent up too soon, and they knew concerns weren't being addressed.
posted by amberglow at 5:06 PM on December 11, 2005


So because theres no proof it was an accident we should assume it was an attack?

Well shit....the bulb in my downstairs toilet blew this morning. It scared me. I went right out and panic-bought 3 new bulbs! BECAUSE THERES NO WAY IT WAS JUST AN ACCIDENT!
posted by lemonfridge at 5:11 PM on December 11, 2005


amber : woa woa amber I'm not into negating the presence of human factors nor am I among the ones who blame "the computer" when a computer glitch occours.

Yet there's still a difference between deliberately making something explode and causing the explosion of something without actually wanting it to detonate : the will.

Of course the Challengers astronauts could care less, as much as the victims of the UK explosion should it be discovered it was a routinely avoidable human error or the cost cutting of some manager schmanager.
posted by elpapacito at 5:22 PM on December 11, 2005


And if the UK police are saying this isn't a terroist attack, I'd start thinking otherwise in a hurry. They've got a very bad record in identifying terrorists.

Examples? (more than the recent bombings which were confused until rescuers got into the tunnels....which is understandable)

(and remember, 9/11 was thought to be an accident until the 2nd plane hit)
posted by lemonfridge at 5:27 PM on December 11, 2005


My brother lives 10 miles away and was woken by the loud rumble of the explosions. He thought it was some kind of attack on London. Meanwhile my other brother who lives 6 miles away didn't hear a thing and was really confused when someone phoned him asking was he ok.

All this second guessing the incident is rather silly.
posted by movilla at 5:32 PM on December 11, 2005


The companies that run the depot were recently fined for lax control of leaks at another site; this site had only ten employees there at the time. It was an attack: by capitalism.
posted by bonaldi at 5:48 PM on December 11, 2005


Great flickr photo here.
posted by movilla at 5:52 PM on December 11, 2005


...on capitalism!
posted by Artw at 5:55 PM on December 11, 2005


Calling this "not an attack" is exactly as stupid, for the exact same reasons, as calling this "an attack."

Not exactly. Only approximately. Based on an entire lifetime of hearing about news reports of things exploding, I estimate that one is something like two orders of magnitude more likely than the other to be correct. (guess which one!) True, though, that they're both pretty stupid. I mean, it would be equally useful to say "it wasn't a meteorite strike". (It wasn't a practical joke. It wasn't an attack by aliens. It wasn't caused by a rabid beaver chewing through the wiring...)
posted by sfenders at 5:57 PM on December 11, 2005


Examples?

Google up "Birmingham Six", "Maguire Seven" and "Guildford Four".
posted by eriko at 6:05 PM on December 11, 2005


fair enuff, but i still cant see this being an attack.

(i'll have to blame my age for not knowing the details of the above)
posted by lemonfridge at 6:25 PM on December 11, 2005


Gotta be the most exciting day in Hemel's history (i used to live less than 2 miles from Buncefield)
posted by oliyoung at 6:44 PM on December 11, 2005


It wasn't caused by a rabid beaver chewing through the wiring

Of course not. This is England.

Rabid Voles, however....
posted by eriko at 6:46 PM on December 11, 2005


Badgers.
posted by normy at 6:53 PM on December 11, 2005


Why do these o-rings hate our freedom so much?
posted by HyperBlue at 6:59 PM on December 11, 2005


Don't dismiss the rabid-beaver theory so quickly. Al-Queda are devious, and while the borders are being sealed against explosives and nukes, who's watching for large aquatic rodents?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:08 PM on December 11, 2005


[Caption] The blast was heard as far away as Holland

Ok, that's some fucked up shit right there.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:24 PM on December 11, 2005


So, I come off reading this post that tells us "
the fossil fuels we burn in one year were made from organic matter “containing 44×10 to the 18 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet’s current biota.”(1) In plain English, this means that every year we use four centuries’ worth of plants and animals.
" I convince myself with even more certainty that we're all screwed.

In the grand scheme of things bringing AQ into this environmental nighmare seems pathetically parochial and small minded

I don't give a toss if Al Qaida is involved.
posted by marvin at 9:27 PM on December 11, 2005


Well, on the first reports -- which included some believed deaths and witness claims of a small aircraft -- there were a number of hairs on the back of my neck that went up. After all, London was just hit by actual honest-to-goodness terrorists. You have to consider it.

It only took a few hours for enough information to come out that indicated that was increasingly unlikely.

just hypothetically, if this was a deliberate act (by Al Qaeda or anyone else) would it actually be terrorism? I mean, this could be concidered a strategically relevent site, and there were a bare minimum of casualities and, so far, no casualties. That would seem to be leaning much more towards legitimate guerilla warfare than terrorism.

adamt -- OK, hopefully this is wholly hypothetical, but you misunderstand how the laws of war operate. For starters, there is no "could be considered" loophole. It either is, or isn't, used by hostile military forces. The 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions defines rules for guerrilla warfare, and under numerous articles (particularly 51 through 58) an attack on a gasoline depot in a populated area would be considered a war crime no matter who did it. It isn't a specifically military fuel depot, for starters, and any attack would fail the due diligence required to avoid civilian casualties (even if they were, in fact, limited).

In any case, note any non-uniformed foreigners attempting even a "legitimate" attack against a military target would have the legal status of executable spies. Nationals attacking the facilities of their own country would have no international protection whatsoever.
posted by dhartung at 11:41 PM on December 11, 2005


If you start seeing evidence of their work everywhere, then, yes, the terrorists have already won.
posted by Joeforking at 12:32 AM on December 12, 2005


Rumours of Al Qaeda are responsible for the most incredible pictures.
posted by NinjaPirate at 1:55 AM on December 12, 2005


My mother is a 999 (US: 911) operator for the Hertfordshire Police, one of three who was on duty at the time. Her facility is located about 15 miles from the blast site. She said the first she knew of it was an emergency call at 6:02am from a terrified woman in Hemel Hempstead reporting a huge explosion. As the woman was saying the word "explosion", the shock wave hit the call center and shook the building, rattling the ceiling tiles and terrifying its occupants.

It's still fascinating to me to realize the woman caller had time to experience the blast, call the police about it, and start to relay the details of it before the actual sound of the blast had reached the place her call terminated.
posted by kcds at 5:57 AM on December 12, 2005


Probably the main reason for surmising that this isn't a terrorist attack, is that it took place at 6am on a Sunday - one of the few times where you could guarantee that there would be few people on site and little passing traffic. AQ's terrorism is characterised by timing to cause maximum, not minimum casualties.
posted by prentiz at 9:40 AM on December 12, 2005


Well, plus it's a wild shot in the dark based on making assumptions geared towards maximum sensationalistic value...
posted by Artw at 11:13 AM on December 12, 2005


Great story kcds. According to Google, the shock wave would have taken 71 seconds to travel 15 miles.
posted by cillit bang at 10:09 PM on December 12, 2005


Photos you wont see on the news:
Nutters!
posted by Krela at 10:11 AM on December 14, 2005


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