== Water, water everywhere ==

In the last issue I reported that a retailer who had applied for supplies from Shell was told that the oil company would not be willing to supply a site that happened to be located in what is deemed ’zone one’ of an environmental source protection zone for water (presumably in fear of contamination leaking into it).

Now I’ve had feedback from an environmental consultant with great experience in the retail petroleum sector and his response is totally opposite.

"Gob-smacked, I am not," says James Skinner of Subadra Consulting. "Ground water is finally being recognised as the valuable commodity that it is."

He goes on to explain just how much the polluter pays. "While the highest Environment Agency fine levied against an oil company for a pollution incident remains under £100,000, remediation of the problem and compensation demanded by water companies for replacement of an abstraction generally runs to millions. We’ve been involved in a number of remedial projects where petrol stations have polluted underlying groundwater within a source protection zone one. All have involved immediate closure of the site, extensive remediation works and significant amounts of poor publicity for the oil companies involved. One water company quoted compensation of £330,000 per week in the event that abstraction was compromised. Another retrofitted treatment plants, at a cost of £1.2m at two abstractions in case pollution ever reached the wells - we await the court case for recovery of these costs."

He suggests that oil companies will do anything to prevent their brand being associated with pollution and damage to the environment.

He further adds that Total was successfully fined by the Environment Agency for a leak from a fuel depot it supplied on the grounds that it should have checked the suitability of the fuel storage facilities.

"On this basis," he says, "one suspects that oil companies will be held vicariously liable for leaks from petrol stations that they supply - who else can afford the sums of money required to remediate a major groundwater incident?"

Meanwhile, John Wainewright, my other environmental specialist, informs me that one of his sources, Landmark, has identified over 5,000 fuel stations in major aquifer areas in England, 258 in Scotland and 113 in Wales. These, I stress are by no means all in zone one areas, but to give James Skinner the closing word: "Over the past three years we’ve been involved in several environmental risk ranking exercises for one of the major oil companies. Guess what contributes most significantly to the final risk score? Source protection zones. I can assure you that this sort of risk ranking exercise is driving site divestiture programmes."

== Who reads the fine print? ==

High flier Sir Richard Branson doesn’t. He recently signed some new mega deal and his team inserted a clause in the contract to say that the undersigned pledged to lose a stone in a month. Everyone had a good laugh and I believe he is sticking to it.

Unusually, my caller did read the contract and was dismayed at what he suspected might be a get-out clause he remembered from the past. He (who requested anonymity) is supplied by Texaco, whom he likes - so much he joined it twice. But in between, when it was run "by a woman with an American team" he left. Nothing to do with it being run by a woman incidentally. "In those days Texaco had a clause in the contract which gave it the right to reduce margins on 30 days’ notice and the retailers had the right to leave the group if they didn’t like it. They wanted to pull out of the country at the time," he added. "I was one of the last to leave. I had to - it would have bankrupted me."

He went onto the Spot market for a year. Then Texaco came back with its American team replaced by a European one and the clause was gone. But recently he got a new contract and there was that old clause, back in again. He wondered whether others had mentioned this clause. Nope.

I rang Ray Holloway at the PRA for his opinion and he said: "I think the circumstances are very different today. He shouldn’t be concerned. Texaco is now a very different company and this clause is really an extra piece of security. At least it gives him an out. And other suppliers are now available. Murco and Gulf are both big brands in his part of the country."

== Surrounded by crooks ==

When you trade near, as Phil Brownlow puts it, "a hive’s nest of crooks" you might wonder, as he does, whether it’s worth trying to sell fags or booze. "You can buy it from the flats, from the white vans, from people down at the pub. You can’t compete."

All I can suggest is a call to Crimestoppers (0800 555 111). This is a completely confidential line. It’s an independent charity recognised by ACPO and it runs 24/7. It gets thousands of calls every day from all sorts, including crooks shopping other crooks.