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LNG terminals - Consent and operational issues

Introduction

This document describes the legal framework and the role HSE has in ensuring safety at Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals in the UK. HSE's primary role and regulatory responsibilities for ensuring safety are during the design, construction, and operation of LNG terminals and ensuring appropriate emergency plans are developed. This document also describes the legal framework and HSE's advisory role in the land use planning system. It also identifies the interfaces between HSE and other regulatory bodies who also have responsibilities associated with LNG terminals.

This document deals with the arrangements for England and Wales where all of the currently proposed LNG import terminals are situated; arrangements for Scotland are similar but different organisations are involved.

Similar arrangements to those described below apply to the transport and storage of other dangerous substances.

Frequently asked questions

What is LNG? Is it dangerous?

LNG is liquefied natural gas. This is the same gas supplied to homes and offices but in a liquid form. The gas is a liquid because it is kept at very low temperature. At ambient temperature, the liquid rapidly expands becoming natural gas.

The liquid itself is not dangerous, however any liquid released into the open, will rapidly turn into large volumes of natural gas, which could if not contained either catch fire or explode.

What assurances can HSE give regarding safety?

The primary responsibility for safety lies with the operator of the LNG Terminal. The operator has to ensure that its site is designed, and constructed, then operated safely.

The principal legislation covering LNG establishments is the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH). The Regulations aim to prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances and to limit the consequences of any accident to people and the environment.

The regulations are enforced by the COMAH Competent Authority (CA) comprising HSE and the Environment Agency in England and Wales. HSE is the lead agency for LNG safety. 

The safety of the terminals will be assured if the operator complies with all relevant health and safety legislation. Where LNG terminals are properly designed, constructed and operated then the likelihood of failure leading to a major accident is very low.

What measures are put in place to mitigate against the consequences of an on-site incident?

The terminal operator has a duty to prepare and test emergency procedures for dealing with the consequences of a major accident.  The Local Authority must prepare an emergency plan which details how an emergency relating to a possible major accident in its area will be dealt with. If you live in the vicinity of the terminal you will have been provided with information on what to do in the event of an incident.  The emergency plan should specify how warnings will be given to members of the public who may be affected by an incident or accident.

Who is responsible for ensuring safety at the site?

The primary responsibility for ensuring safety lies with the operator of the LNG site.

HSE's role is to assess the COMAH pre-construction and pre-operation safety reports submitted by the operator and by undertaking regular inspections of the site during its construction. Further inspections will then be carried out at the site throughout its operational life to ensure the operator continues to run the site safely.

The nature of LNG sites means HSE is also required to work closely with other, relevant agencies, including; for example, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Hazardous Substances Authorities to ensure a coordinated response whenever necessary.

Who ensures the safety of LNG vessels in transit to, approaching, and moored on the jetty?

HSE advises on those elements within its expertise, i.e. the unloading and land based activity. Where shipping is involved it is for the Hazardous Substances Authority to decide whether or not to consult other, such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, in addition to other statutory consultees. The functions, responsibilities and means of co-operation between HSE and Maritime and Coastguard Agency operational activities are set out in a Memorandum of Understanding between HSE and MCA.

What are the Regulations that govern operations at this site?

Major hazards regulation has three main strands:

  1. First and foremost major accident prevention at the terminal is achieved through the COMAH Regulations 1999 (as amended 2005) which requires reasonably practicable measures to be in place to prevent fires and explosions from the escape of LNG at the terminal. This is achieved through effective management, process and procedures, and good practice safeguards that are proportionate to the risks. The terminal's COMAH safety reports relates to the actual or anticipated presence of LNG on site and is required to be reviewed at least every five years.
  2. A Hazardous Substances Consent is granted by the Hazardous Substances Authority (in this case Pembrokeshire County Council and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority). A Consent is part of the second layer of public safety protection and is a land use planning (LUP) control under the EU Seveso II Directive. Although very rare, the risk of a major accident with significant off-site consequences cannot be reduced to zero even at a major hazard site which is built and operated to the relevant good practice standards required by COMAH. Consents therefore aim to control the development of new major hazard sites to ensure long-term separation with land in public use and minimise the impact of any major accident on the surrounding community. In some cases, consent conditions can be imposed that require an operator to implement additional processes and technical measures to reduce the risk and/or consequence of a major accident further than that achieved through COMAH.
  3. Emergency planning is the third layer and is designed to mitigate the consequences of a major accident through good on and off-site emergency response arrangements.

LNG storage sites and terminals in Great Britain

Apart from a short period in the early 1960s when Canvey Island was used as an import terminal, the 40 year history of LNG in Britain has been of strategic storage (peak shave) and land based transport of LNG to storage facilities supplying remote networks.

At the beginning of 2005 there were five Top Tier LNG storage sites at Glen Mavis, Partington, Avonmouth, Dynevor Arms and Isle of Grain. These were built approximately 30 years ago as peak shave plants to reinforce gas supplies at vulnerable points of the National Transmission System (NTS). During the summer, when demand for gas is low, the sites take gas from the NTS, liquefy it, and put it in storage. They export this gas back to the NTS to meet peak day demand in the winter, typically on 5 days per year.

There are also four Lower Tier storage sites at Wick, Thurso, Oban and Campbeltown. LNG is shipped by road tanker to provide gas for remote networks isolated from the NTS. These Scottish Independent Undertakings (as they are known) are operated by Scotland Gas Networks plc.

During 2005 the conversion of Isle of Grain from a peak shave plant to an import terminal will be completed; and work is going ahead to develop other import terminals to meet the anticipated shortfall of natural gas from the North Sea, Irish Sea and continental interconnectors.

Land Use Planning and Hazardous Substances Consent

All establishments wishing to hold stocks of certain hazardous substances above a threshold quantity must apply to the Hazardous Substances Authority (HSA) - usually the local planning authority - for a hazardous substances consent under the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 19921. For LNG the threshold is 15 tonnes. HSE is one of eleven organizations that the HSA must consult as to the advisability or otherwise of locating a major hazard establishment in the location designated.

HSE assesses the risks based on the consent particulars and, in some cases, other plant features which significantly affect the risk to people and which may need to become conditions of consent. HSE advises on health and safety issues within its expertise and which are covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act; any issues about the scope of planning legislation are a matter for the HSA. There is a large body of planning law, planning circulars and legal precedents that affect what the HSA takes into account.

Where consent is granted, HSE will set a consultation zone around the major hazard site and notify the hazardous substance authority. Whenever a development is proposed within the consultation zone HSE is consulted for its advice as to the advisability or otherwise of locating the particular development there.

In England and Wales2 the hazardous substance authority makes the decisions on planning issues. HSE's role is as a consultee to inform the hazardous substances authority whether there are safety grounds for refusal.

The advice outlined above relates purely to the land use planning process and is not the principal means to achieve safety when the installation starts to operate. That is achieved primarily through the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999 (COMAH).

Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999

The principal legislation covering LNG establishments is the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH). Their aim is to prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances and to limit the consequences of any accident to people and the environment. The regulations cover the unloading equipment at the jetty, the site itself, and the outfeed up to the national gas transmission system. Dangerous substances on the ship are not covered by COMAH but are subject to the Dangerous Substances in Harbour Areas Regulations 1987.

The COMAH regulations are enforced jointly in England and Wales by a Competent Authority (CA) comprising the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (EA)3. In the case of LNG establishments HSE is the lead authority.

An operator who plans to build a new LNG establishment has to submit information to the CA in advance of construction in the form of a pre-construction safety report (PCSR). Another, similar, report must be sent to the CA prior before dangerous substances are introduced into the plant - the pre-operations safety report (POSR). The operator has to ensure that the construction and operation of an establishment does not start until he has received from the CA the conclusions of its examination of the relevant report.

The purpose of the PCSR is to ensure that safety is considered fully at the design stage. If things need to be improved or altered then it is easier to make those changes at the design stage than to wait until the site is being built. When the CA assesses a safety report it is looking for a demonstration that adequate safety and reliability have been incorporated into the design, the application of good practice and for concepts which reduce the risks to As Low As is Reasonably Practicable (the ALARP Principle). Operators must, as a minimum, meet recognised good practice and then look at what more can be done to reduce risks without excessive costs.

The POSR must demonstrate that the operator has taken all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and to limit the consequences to people and the environment of any that do occur. If the CA considers that there is evidence of serious deficiency in any of the measures taken or proposed it will prohibit the operation of those parts of any establishment which are seriously deficient.

As well as assessing the formal safety reports the CA is required to organise an adequate system of inspections while the establishment is operational - this is developed towards the end of the POSR assessment. The CA will also investigate incidents and accidents which occur on site.

Regular inspection visits will be made during the construction phase to ensure that the integrity of the plant and equipment is in accordance with the information provided in the PCSR, including adherence to recognised and accepted standards and good practice. The construction activities on site will also be inspected to check that the operator is doing all that is necessary to ensure the health and safety of those at work.

Under COMAH, operators of LNG terminals are also required to produce an on-site emergency plan before the establishment starts to operate and must provide information to the local authority to assist them in their production of an off-site emergency plan. The plans' objectives are to contain and control incidents to minimise the effects and to limit damage to persons, the environment and property.

Hazardous Substances Consent & Land Use Planning COMAH - pre-construction, pre-operational and operational phase
Ship in transit to, approaching, and moored on the jetty HSE advises on those elements within its expertise, i.e. the unloading and land based activity. Where shipping is involved it is for the Hazardous Substances Authority to decide whether or not to consult others, such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, in addition to the eleven statutory consultees.

The functions, responsibilities and means of co-operation between HSE and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) operational activities are set out in a Memorandum of Understanding between HSE and the MCA. Land Use Planning and Hazardous Substances Consent issues are not covered by that document.
LNG on the ship at the jetty is not considered to be part of the inventory of the COMAH establishment but must be taken into account if it could cause or exacerbate a major accident. Safety reports are required to take account of external events which could lead to a major accident at the establishment and an incident on a ship must be taken into account in the safety report to the extent that it could affect the safety of the establishment.

Harbours used for the unloading of LNG are managed by statutory harbour authorities which have duties under the Dangerous Substances in Harbour Areas Regulations 1987. Harbour authorities control the marine traffic into and through the harbour,, and the berthing and moving of ships. They are bound by the Port Marine Safety Code, compliance of which is monitored by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The functions, responsibilities and means of co-operation between HSE and MCA operational activities are set out in a Memorandum of Understanding between the two bodies.
Connections between the ship and the jetty and unloading operations HSE is one of eleven statutory consultees to the local Hazardous Substances Authority under the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 1992. HSE advises on those elements within its expertise, which includes the unloading and land based activity. The safety reports should include an assessment of the integrity of the LNG off-loading arrangements between the ship and the establishment. These arrangements should, as a minimum, be designed in accordance with BS EN 1523:1997 “Installation and equipment for liquefied natural gas - Ship to shore interface”.

Note: Under the Dangerous Substances in Harbours Regulations 1987, HSE enforces the safety precautions which must be taken during the unloading of dangerous substances within the harbour area.
Pipelines between jetty and storage Pipelines which are within the area notified under the hazardous substances consent, are included within the hazardous substances consent consideration. Pipelines outside this area have to be notified to HSE under The Pipelines Safety Regulation 1996. When HSE is notified it advises the local authorities of appropriate land use planning controls along the route of the pipeline on the basis of the information supplied with the notification. The safety reports should include an assessment of the integrity of the LNG pipelines within the COMAH establishment. These are designed and installed to recognised standards such as ASME B31.3 - Process Piping, a chemical plant and petroleum refinery piping code. The design takes into account of the low temperature service of the pipelines.
Storage tanks Storage tanks are a significant consideration in the advice HSE provides as a statutory consultee under the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 1992. The safety report should consider the effect of foreseeable hazards such as extreme weather, aircraft impact, earthquakes, etc. on the storage tanks and any release that may result. However, the assessment is restricted to foreseeable accidental impact - not to terrorist activity. (see below)

The site survey should investigate the geological characteristics of the region in sufficient detail to provide a clear understanding of the physical processes that formed the area, as well as the potential for the future seismic activity. The size of the region to be investigated
depends on the nature of the area around the site and is generally limited to a distance of 320 km from the site.
Regasification plant and compression HSE is one of eleven statutory consultees to the local Hazardous Substances Authority under the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 1992. HSE advises on those elements within its expertise, i.e. the unloading and land based activity.

Regasification and compression plant are covered by the advice HSE provides.
Once the establishment is in operation, the CA will draw up an intervention plan and have a schedule of inspections to confirm that operations take place in accordance with the COMAH safety report and health and safety law.
Export pipeline When HSE is notified under The Pipelines Safety Regulations 1996, it advises the local authorities of appropriate land use planning controls along the route of the pipeline on the basis of the information supplied with the notification. Under The Pipelines Safety Regulations 1996, the pipeline operator must notify HSE of any new pipeline which is to be constructed to allow the gas from a new establishment to be connected with the National Gas Transmission System. HSE will assess the pipeline design, and inspect the construction and +operation of the pipeline.
Effect on other sites - "Domino effect" This is not dealt with as part of the consent process but is covered by provisions of the COMAH regulations. Regulation 16 of the COMAH Regulations requires the Competent Authority to use information provided in notifications and safety reports to designate groups of establishments where the likelihood or consequences of a major accident may be increased because of the location and proximity of establishments in the group and the dangerous substances present there. These are commonly referred to as “domino sites”.

The Competent Authority will notify the operators of establishments in such groups of the names and addresses of the other operators in the group who are then obliged to exchange appropriate information about their establishments. The operators must take account of this information in their major accident prevention policy documents, safety reports and emergency plans.

If it is decided that this Regulation applies to an LNG terminal, the operator will be duly notified and advised of the need to take account of potential incidents in neighbouring establishments in the risk assessment for the LNG establishment.
Terrorist activity The Hazardous Substances Authority is advised by the security services and Home Office on terrorist issues. The safety reports should consider the risks arising from trespass of an ordinary member of the public. Terrorist issues are a matter for the security services and the Home Office.
Emergency planning This is not dealt with as part of the consent process but is covered by provisions of the COMAH regulations. Operators of LNG terminals are required to produce an on-site emergency plan before the establishment starts to operate and must provide information to the local authority to assist them in their production of an off-site emergency plan. The plans' objectives are to contain and control incidents to minimise the effects and to limit damage to persons, the environment and property.

In harbours subject to the Dangerous Substances in Harbour Areas Regulations 1987 the harbour authority must develop an emergency plan for dealing with incidents involving dangerous substances. Harbour Authorities should liaise with people producing on-site and off-site emergency plans for COMAH sites so that the plans are compatible in the event of a major emergency affecting both the site and the harbour or harbour area.

Footnotes

1 In addition to applying for hazardous substances consent a separate planning application must also be made to the local planning authority. HSE has no role in such planning applications (unless they fall in the consultation zone of another site) and this document does not address this.

2 In Scotland the planning authority has the role of the hazardous substance authority 3 In Scotland the CA comprises HSE and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency

2012-12-01