Hydrogen: Accidents and Liability
Undetectable to humans, this highly flammable and explosive gas has already caused numerous accidents. Here's a look back at the types of accidents and liabilities incurred, which we had the pleasure of presenting to legal experts, consular judges and lawyers at the seminar organized by CNIDECA in April 2023.
Hydrogen has been used for many years in the oil and chemical industries, and is set to experience unprecedented growth as part of the energy transition and the "carbon neutrality" objective, particularly in the transport sector.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles are already on the road, and hydrogen filling stations are on the increase, but are regulations up to the challenge?
While regulations exist for the industrial sector, there are still none for consumer applications.
And yet, accidents have already occurred, the intensity of which is all the greater given that the vast majority were particularly severe fires or explosions.
The catastrophic accident involving the Hidenburg airship in 1937 is still fresh in people's minds...
More recently, the explosion followed by fire at a hydrogen filling station in Norway has reminded us of the risks associated with this highly explosive and flammable gas. At the time of this accident on June 10, 2019, the blast was so strong that it triggered the airbags of nearby vehicles. Three people were injured. Emergency services arrived on the scene 7 minutes after the explosion. A safety perimeter was set up within a 500-meter radius. Two roads were closed to traffic. The fire was brought under control by the emergency services only 2h30 after the explosion. Significant physical and consequential damage was sustained. But that's not all. Hydrogen refueling was halted nationwide. Hydrogen vehicle manufacturers were putting deliveries of new vehicles on hold. The manufacturer's stations, whether of the same technology or not, are temporarily shut down while investigations are carried out, whether in Europe, the United States or South Korea. After 17 days of investigation, the operator identified a hydrogen leak in a high-pressure storage unit. Insufficient tightening torque was believed to be the cause.
Unfortunately, this type of accident is not isolated. On its website (ARIA), the French Ministry for Ecological Transition has listed 215 accidents (prior to 2007) involving hydrogen, including 25 fatalities (5 of them in France). In 84% of cases, these were fires and/or explosions.
These accidents bring into play various types of liability for the protagonists involved: administrative (ICPE regulations, SEVESO sites, etc.), criminal (breaches of the penal code, labor code, environmental code, etc.) or civil (contractual or extra-contractual liability, defective products, Badinter Law, etc.).
In addition to the regulatory aspect, the property and liability insurance sector needs to be aware of these new uses of hydrogen. Traditional" risks, such as physical damage, consequential loss and civil liability, are obviously the first to be affected, but technological risks, terrorism and political risks cannot be ignored.
It is undeniable that the development of "clean" energies, such as low-carbon or renewable hydrogen, is absolutely necessary in the current context of global warming. However, the urgency of climate change must not lead public or private operators to overlook the real and serious risks that hydrogen can pose in consumer applications.
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