News

2017 May 08

Protected Species Licence Call Over Firth Oil Transfers

Calls have been made for the Scottish Government to block a new application for ship to ship oil transfers in the Moray and Cromarty firths but ministers say it is a matter for Westminster.

During a Holyrood debate Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie suggested that business minister Paul Wheelhouse could stop the plans by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA) by refusing to grant a licence to disrupt the habitat of a European Protected Species (EPS).

More than 100,000 people signed a petition objecting to the proposal to move crude oil in open waters and members of campaign group Cromarty Rising made their second trip to Edinburgh to protest against the proposal.

They were joined by Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, who also attended a previous protest in January. The application has since been withdrawn but a new one is expected this year and will be decided by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, a UK Government body.

Green MSP Mr Finnie led talks at Holyrood on Tuesday evening when he outlined the risks associated with open water transfers.

He said: “The proposals create no new jobs and put at risk sea life of world significance and the tourist industry, which brings £108 million per annum to the Moray coast, including 2600 jobs, that’s one in 10 of the population.

“For this to go ahead it would require a European Protected Species (EPS) licence and Marine Scotland would issue that. We have the power to stop this now. Please use powers to evidence and resist this threat to our precious Moray Firth marine and wild life, our coastal communities and the thousands of jobs that depend on it.

“Please confirm that an EPS licence won’t be issued and will therefore stop ship to ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth.”

He was backed up by fellow Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd who described the consequences of a spill as “disastrous” and “catastrophic”.

“The potential environmental impact of this venture presents serious concerns and is at he heart of my constituents’ worries,” she said.

And Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, insisted communities must be fully consulted if a new application is lodged.

“Why risk it?” she asked. “Are there really any benefits worth the significant risks?

“I am not against ship to ship oil transfers per se - but in the right place, with the right scientific evidence.

“On both counts I feel that the application for the Cromarty and Moray Firths has not met the high standards that we should impose on any development in an area of national environmental importance.”

Members of campaign group Cromarty Rising spoke to MSPs outside parliament and were present during the debate. They have hit out at the CFPA for its contingency plans, which state that dolphins and whales may have to be euthanised if they become stranded in the event of an oil spill.

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Edward Mountain pointed out there have only been three oil spills in the UK in the last 10 years but still finds the idea of transfers “difficult to support”.

He called for more information and consultation if a new application is submitted.

“If the CFPA is to submit a new application I ask that they listen to the local community councils, RSPB and Cromarty Rising and try to address their concerns. If they cannot address them then they should not re-submit their application.”

As the issue is reserved to Westminster, Mr Wheelhouse, who is also responsible for energy and innovation, said the Scottish Government has no control over the issue but the concerns will be made clear to the UK Government at the appropriate time.

“I take to heart the very real concerns of the communities who live around the firths. The issue at stake is not the transfers themselves but the manner in which they are proposed to be done in open waters which has raised concerns with members,” he said. “I have to make absolutely clear that the Scottish Government has no powers over decision making process for any oil licences.

“We will continue to make best efforts to ensure that the secretary of state is held to account in the decision making process and I will ensure any Scottish response highlights issues and the concerns raised.”

The CFPA has insisted that transfers can be carried out safely.

A spokeswoman added: “The port is acting in the interests of the majority of our stakeholders but we do understand that some people are against our application. It is important our stakeholders understand that we have a legal obligation to protect the environment of the Cromarty Firth.”

Source: www.highland-news.co.uk; Emma Crichton

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