Pollution incident costs biogas firm

UK: Incident occurred during commissioning of the plant, but company behind the work has since gone bust

Officers responding to the incident in 2016. Photograph: Natural Resources Wales
Officers responding to the incident in 2016. Photograph: Natural Resources Wales

A livestock feed producer has agreed a £40,000 (€44,100) payout after a digestate leak from its under-construction biogas plant killed about 18,000 fish in a special area of conservation.

The leak, from Pencefn Feeds Ltd’s anaerobic digestion facility near Tregaron, Ceredigion, is thought to have killed the fish along eight kilometres of the river Teifi in December, 2016.

The river is one of the most important recreational and net fisheries for salmon and sea trout in Wales and has been designated a special area of conservation for salmon. The incident was reported by the public to Natural Resources Wales (NRW), whose officers soon tracked down its source.

Pencefn Feeds has agreed an enforcement undertaking in response to the incident. 

NRW explained Pencefn Feeds was not the only company with some degree of culpability for the incident, which happened when the plant was being commissioned. Before it could begin generating power, a pipe broke between the primary and secondary tanks.

Unfortunately, Hallmark Power, which was the main subcontractor for the plant, entered voluntary liquidation and was dissolved in March. The main contractor, ComBigaS UK, was dissolved a year ago. Its Danish parent firm has no base in the UK and was therefore not liable for legal action.

Pencefn Feeds had expressed concerns about the quality of the work carried out before the spill, which NRW accepted would have been considered a strong mitigating factor had the case gone to court. It was therefore settled under the civil sanctions regime.

Monitoring has been ongoing ever since, confirming that the impact on invertebrates has been minimal and that salmon fry have been found in the area affected. But the trout population is expected to take longer to recover.

Pencefn Feeds has been asked to comment.

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