The BBC report about this massive catastrophe starts off rather ominously:
The man in charge of investigating the massive fires at a Hertfordshire oil depot on Sunday says the flames may have destroyed all clues to the cause.
Further along it adds a bit more hope:
A police investigation into the incident has begun, including investigations by anti-terrorist police.
But Chief Con Whiteley said there was “nothing to suggest anything other than an accident”.
In a classic risk matrix the volatility and demand for petroleum is going to continue to add significant security costs. The value of the fuel has skyrocketed, the threats are clearly higher, and therefore the vulnerabilities must be addressed. In this case the vulnerability involved “20 petrol tanks…each said to hold three million gallons of fuel”. Even if you use the American fuel average price of US$2.50/gal that means US$150 million in fuel assets exposed, let alone the equipment value or the cost to the economy when the fuel supply is disrupted and the sky filled with toxic thick smoke.
Compare that to the almost inert properties of stored bio-diesel. Unlike many other forms of stored energy, the pollutive and combustive values of bio-diesel are incredibly low, which makes it a far safer fuel. My sense is that the military is already exploring this for obvious reasons (an ex-SF recently explained to me that the Humvees running bio-diesel are nowhere near as explosive since their fuel tanks can not be “weaponized” by IEDs). From a civilian market standpoint I have to wonder whether the petroleum companies will be able to find a way to reassure their respective governments that they are capable of resolving the inherent national security deficiencies of their industry. Will their record profits be spent on reducing the asset value (lowering the price), reducing the vulnerabilities (lower volatility, build giant fortresses around tanks), or can they help reduce the threats (ban smoking, help stabilize democracies, fund education)? How many people will face serious health risks from the burning petroleum?
We’re reaching a moment similar to when the mid-range systems started to steal cycles away from the highly profitable but totally unflexible mainframe, later to be replaced themselves with personal/distributed computing. Fuel production is ripe for the same sort of reorganization, with more widely distributed cells of production at lesser individual capacity providing a system more aligned with popular values….
Edited to add:
The BBC also reports that “The Buncefield depot is said to supply a third of the fuel for Heathrow. Some aircraft are only being allowed 40% of the fuel they would normally take on board and airport company BAA said restrictions could last some weeks.”