Salt cavity natural gas storage - Consent and operational issues


Here we describe the legal framework and HSE's role in ensuring safety at Great Britain's salt cavity natural gas storage sites. Depleted hydrocarbon extraction reservoirs are also used for natural gas storage and are treated similarly. HSE's regulatory responsibilities primarily concern the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of these sites as well as the development of appropriate emergency plans.

Salt cavity natural gas storage sites in Great Britain

The use of underground caverns in salt rock formations to store natural gas or other hazardous gases is long established and common around the world. They are usually charged and discharged through a single borehole designed and constructed to standards similar to those used for offshore oil or gas extraction wells.

In Great Britain natural gas is injected into storage in salt cavities from a high pressure pipeline connected to the national transmission system (NTS) and returned to the NTS at a later date, typically at times of high demand. The longest established site used for natural gas storage was commissioned in 1979 at Hornsea in East Yorkshire. Further gas storage sites in East Yorkshire, Teesside and Cheshire have since been brought into operation, and more are planned.

Regulatory framework

HSE regulates safety at salt cavity natural gas storage sites using legislation covering four separate areas:

Land Use Planning (LUP) and Hazardous Substances Consent

Establishments wishing to hold stocks of certain hazardous substances above a threshold quantity must apply to the Hazardous Substances Authority (usually the local planning authority) for hazardous substances consent. The threshold quantity for natural gas is 15 tonnes.

Further information on Land Use Planning (LUP) – public advice is available.

Control of Major Accident Hazards

The principal health and safety legislation covering natural gas storage establishments is Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (as amended) (COMAH). COMAH creates a framework for the regulation of establishments where there is potential for a major accident to people or to the environment to occur. Operators of COMAH establishments are required to demonstrate that they:

Where salt cavity gas storage is concerned, HSE expects that the European Standard BS EN 1918:1998, in particular Part 3 (Functional recommendations for storage in solution-mined salt cavities) and Part 5 (Functional recommendations for surface facilities), will be adopted.

Safety reports are required to take account of external events, which could lead to a major incident. Safety reports should include consideration of the following:

Information regarding 'down hole' safety included in COMAH safety reports will be assessed by HSE's Wells Inspectors.

Further information on the control of major accident hazards is available.

Pipelines safety

The Pipelines Safety Regulations 1996 (PSR) classify pipelines carrying natural gas at above 8 bar absolute pressure (ie high pressure gas pipelines) as major accident hazard pipelines. The pipeline operator must ensure that construction is not started unless he has notified HSE of the pipeline route and design six months beforehand. A further notification is required 14 days before gas is introduced into the pipeline. HSE's Pipeline Inspectors will review the design, and inspect the construction and operation of the pipeline.

Further information on Pipelines health and safety is available.

Borehole safety

A place at which an activity or operation is to be undertaken in connection with the extraction of minerals by a borehole is defined as a borehole site. Since the borehole is initially intended to extract minerals (salt), the Boreholes Safety and Operations Regulations 1995 will apply from the beginning of operations on the site and will continue to apply during the life of the establishment until the borehole is abandoned.

Further information is available in A guide to the Borehole Sites and Operations Regulations 1995. Guidance on Regulations - L72