The company responsible for an oil spill which saw thousands of litres of oil pour into a Welsh stream has avoided a fine – but made a donation to a river charity.
In October, 2016, routine maintenance was being carried out alongside the A40 outside Carmarthen by Mainline Pipelines Limited, a subsidiary of oil giant Valero.
Damage was done to a pipe near Nantycaws, between Carmarthen and Cross Hands, and around 140,000 litres leaked into the water and eventually reached a stream called Nant Pibwr.
A significant number of fish are claimed to have died as a result of the spill.
A huge clean-up operation ensued at a reported cost of more than £1m, and Mainline Pipelines Limited admitted liability under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act Regulations 1975 following an investigation into the cause of the spill by Natural Resources Wales (NRW).
But the company responsible for the spill avoided a fine and prosecution, and instead donated £150,000 to Afonydd Cymru, the Welsh body that represents six river trusts across Wales.
Following an investigation carried out by NRW, Mainline Pipelines Limited offered what’s known as an ‘enforcement undertaking’ for the offences committed.
According to the UK Government, the “primary purpose of the enforcement undertaking is to allow the offender to restore and remediate any environmental damage they have caused”.
Effectively, this means a donation is paid to a charitable body which is equivalent to the size of a potential fine. This money will now go towards improving parts of the River Tywi which were affected by the spill.
NRW said the outcome benefited the community and that it was “in the public interest” not to take the matter to court.
“Our role is to ensure businesses can operate without harming people and the environment, this may involve prosecution but in certain cases it can be in the public interest to look at options other than a court case,” said Huwel Manley, operations manager for NRW.
“Actions such as enforcement undertakings, where companies that have committed offences make a financial contribution to environmental groups, not only benefit the community but also allows NRW to use its resources to pursue other offenders.
“This approach is an example of NRW fulfilling its key role for the greater good of the wider community. This way, the money is spent in the local economy instead of going to the Treasury, which is the case with court fines.”
Dr Stephen Marsh- Smith OBE of Afonydd Cymru, said: “We are delighted that the outcome of this case is a donation that can be used to improve the environment of the Tywi in Carmarthenshire.
“An enforcement undertaking is a much more positive outcome than a court case and we congratulate Mainline Pipelines and Natural Resources Wales in reaching this agreement.
“We look forward to working with partners to use the funding to improve the environment in the Tywi catchment.”
One man who isn’t happy with how the situation has been dealt with, however, is Carmarthen angler Alex Young.
He claimed the damage caused was greater than what had been acknowledged.
Pollution can also affect the air that we breathe…
“The NRW said the amount of fish killed due to the spill was around 320,” said Mr Young.
“It was much more than that. I was stood there after the spill and I was pulling dead fish out of the water; I must have pulled out 30 or 40 fish without moving a yard.
“The issue has now been dealt with by this donation to the charity but it means the money could go to a broader area. That money should have gone back into the Nantycaws area and the Nant Pibwr itself.
“£150,000 is also around £1 per litre of oil that was spilt into the water. That’s not enough in my opinion.”
In response, NRW reiterated that this course of action saved it time and money, and freed up legal resources to pursue and prosecute others.
Huwel Manley of the NRW added: “We can only accept them (enforcement undertakings) for certain offences, but they can help us to ensure organisations comply with the law, eliminate any financial gain and get them to carry out their business responsibly.”
“When the company submitted an enforcement undertaking, we thoroughly reviewed the offer which was put forward.
“We consider that as a result of this incident, accepting the offer which was made by the company is an appropriate outcome.
“An enforcement undertaking is not an easy option and in this case, environmental improvements will be implemented in the locality and wider Tywi catchment.”
Mainline Pipelines Limited also donated £40,000 to Llangunnor Community Council in 2016 in “recognition of the difficulties endured by residents”.