Milford Haven oil spill: Joyce calls for urgent update

Equipment deployed to protect a stretch of Pembrokeshire shoreline from pollution will remain in place while the scale of last week’s oil spill is evaluated, the Welsh Government has announced.

On 3 January, an oil leak from a fuel pipe occurred at the Valero refinery.  An estimated 7 to 10 cubic meters of heavy fuel was released into the Milford Haven waterway, threatening an environmentally-sensitive saltmarsh and seabed.

At the Senedd on Tuesday (8 January), local AM Joyce Watson called on the government for an urgent update, cautioning that a change in weather could make the situation worse. She said:

“Understandably, members of the public are extremely worried about the spillage and any potential impact that it might have on the environment, the wildlife and local businesses. It is an area of special scientific interest and internationally renowned for puffins, razorbills, Manx shearwaters and grey seals.

“I have contacted Valero every day since Friday, and I’ve expressed my concerns and asked for an update, and they’ve been very forthcoming in those updates, assuring me that the spillage is contained—that booms are in place to help prevent potential further spread. But the reality is this: the weather is calm and has been calm at the moment. The oil spill is actually being driven down into the sea bed. Those things are going to change, and they will change very quickly and probably very soon, and we will be seeing this oil landing—there is evidence already—on the beaches in the locality.

“What I’m really keen to hear is that the Welsh Government is in contact with Valero and the other agencies—NRW and Pembrokeshire County Council, as well as the RSPB, and I’m a member; I’ll declare an interest—in knowing what is happening in the ground and, if need be, to take immediate and fast action to remedy any wider environmental damage that can happen, and also whether the Welsh Government is in contact with Valero to know exactly what is being done to repair the damaged pipe that is and has been leaking this oil into the environment.”

On Thursday, environment minister Lesley Griffiths issued this government update:

“An Oil Pollution Contingency Plan is in place and has brought together a multi-agency response team which includes the Milford Haven Port Authority, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Pembrokeshire County Council, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Milford Haven Coastguard and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Through my officials, I am in regular contact with the response team via NRW.

“A clean-up operation commenced immediately with recovery at sea.  Booms have been deployed and beach clean-up initiated where applicable. A small amount of oil continues to come ashore at Dale and to minimise the possible impact, a boom has been deployed at Sandy Haven and the Gann estuary as a precaution to protect the vulnerable saltmarsh areas.

“Valero is providing the staffing and funding for the clean-up operation, working with NRW and the Local Authorities who are providing advice and guidance on the clean-up and overseeing monitoring of the area.  Surveys continue to be carried out of the coastline and NRW have issued an enforcement notice to suspend the use of two fuel pipelines on the Valero Refinery jetty in Milford Haven.

“Whilst the incident was serious, the leak was stopped quickly and the loss of oil limited. The scale of pollution is currently under evaluation. Very little oil has made landfall and the slick is no longer visible which suggests the oil has sunk or is below the surface. There are some sensitive sea bed habitats in this location, therefore, further evaluation will be needed.  The booms deployed will remain in place to protect the saltmarsh and shoreline clean-up will continue as required.

NRW have maintained a presence in the area to co-ordinate any clean up required and to work with Valero to minimise the impact and ensure the risk of further incidents are minimised.

“I will keep Members updated with any further developments.”

Joyce Watson is a Labour member for the Mid and West Wales region. She sits on the Assembly’s environment scrutiny committee.