Com­mu­nity bat­tles oil gi­ant

on the David ver­sus Go­liath strug­gle which saw a small com­mu­nity tak­ing on a multi-mil­lion pound global busi­ness over plans for ship-to-ship oil trans­fers

The Herald - - NEWS - JODY HAR­RI­SON re­ports

IT was a bat­tle which pitched a small ru­ral com­mu­nity against the might of the oil in­dus­try, with the fate of one of Scot­land’s rarest species at stake.

Res­i­dents of the small High­land vil­lage of Cro­marty, pop­u­la­tion 716, ral­lied to op­pose the nearby Port Au­thor­ity when its plans emerged to trans­fer hun­dreds of thou­sands of tonnes of crude oil be­tween tankers just off­shore.

The wa­ters are home to Scot­land’s only pod of bot­tlenose dol­phins, and it was warned that a sin­gle oil spill – or even the wa­ter from the gi­ant ships’ bal­last – could de­stroy the frag­ile ecosys­tem.

But de­spite the vested in­ter­ests ranged against them, last week the cam­paign­ers’ strug­gle ended in vic­tory when a sim­ple state­ment in a Port of Cro­marty Firth Au­thor­ity news­let­ter, an­nounced they had aban­doned the pro­posal.

It was a sud­den, but fit­ting end to a three-year fight which be­gan when one man spot­ted a no­tice in a lo­cal news­pa­per, and grew to a move­ment backed by more than 100,000 peo­ple.

The plan en­vis­aged by the Port, which has turnover of £8.4 mil­lion a year and em­ploys one in six peo­ple in the area, would have seen 180,000 tonnes of crude oil flow­ing be­tween ships moored out at sea 48 times a year.

Alarmed, the res­i­dent who spot­ted the ap­pli­ca­tion for a ship-to-ship (STS) trans­fer li­cence put up a no­tice in the Cro­marty Post Of­fice, to in­form peo­ple about the scheme.

A month later, in Jan­uary 2016, the first pub­lic meet­ing held by the Cro­marty Com­mu­nity Coun­cil saw 125 peo­ple vote, unan­i­mously, to op­pose STS, and the Cro­marty Ris­ing cam­paign was born.

Cro­marty res­i­dent Dun­can Bow­ers, a mem­ber of the cam­paign, said: “We were ap­palled at the pro­posal to con­duct in­dus­trial-scale op­er­a­tions in­side a ma­rine Spe­cial Area of Con­ser­va­tion.

“Noise, fumes from volatile or­ganic com­pounds and bal­last wa­ter bac­te­ria are all haz­ards with the po­ten­tial for sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.

“The ap­pli­ca­tion gave one tonne as the max­i­mum pos­si­ble oil spill vol­ume, yet these ships were to carry 180,000 tonnes of crude oil and op­er­ate close to a rocky shore­line and busy ship­ping lanes.”

The cam­paign’s tac­tics were moulded by the com­mu­nity, with no-one tak­ing on the role of leader or is­su­ing or­ders.

In­stead, op­po­si­tion grew or­gan­i­cally, spreading along the Mo­ray coast and by March 27 com­mu­nity coun­cils had raised ob­jec­tions to STS.

Three months later, a pe­ti­tion call­ing for the scheme to be dropped signed by 11,000 peo­ple was handed to the Port.

Mr Bow­ers said: “Cro­marty Ris­ing wasn’t a group that had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence with cam­paign­ing or go­ing up against large com­mer­cial in­ter­ests like this. But what we did was sit down in peo­ple’s houses, have a cup of tea, and talk the thing out. That’s the way we moved the thing for­ward.

“We didn’t make a move un­til we had reached a con­sen­sus on the next step.” The cam­paign kept grow­ing. Through pub­lic­ity stunts such as form­ing a hu­man chain of 515 peo­ple along Nairn beach – the length of an oil tanker – and con­tin­u­ally reach­ing out to other groups it be­gan to go na­tional.

With the help of on­line ac­tivists 38 De­grees, the pe­ti­tion grew to 100,000 sig­na­tures – re­ceiv­ing the back­ing of Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage, the Scot­tish Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, Whale and Dol­phin Con­ser­va­tion­ists and the Gen­eral Assem­bly of the Church of Scot­land, among oth­ers.

A demon­stra­tion out­side Holy­rood drew sup­port from crime au­thor Ian Rankin, who owns a house on the Firth, and by May last year the mat­ter was be­ing de­bated by MSPS in the cham­ber.

Lawyers were also en­gaged to in­crease pres­sure on the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to pro­tect the dol­phins, al­though the law govern­ing SRS li­cences re­mains re­served to West­min­ster.

And al­though the Port, which de­clined to com­ment for this story, kept silent, pres­sure kept grow­ing un­til this week’s an­nounce­ment that the plan had been aban­doned.

Ste­wart Kirk­patrick, head of Scot­land for 38 De­grees, said: “This is a fan­tas­tic story of peo­ple power in ac­tion. It goes to show that when peo­ple come to­gether and take ac­tion, we can make real change hap­pen.”

This is a fan­tas­tic story of peo­ple power in ac­tion

Pic­ture: Cro­marty Ris­ing

„ Cam­paign­ers demon­strate on a beach on the Cro­marty Firth over plans for trans­fer crude oil.

„ It had been feared an ac­ci­den­tal oil spill could de­stroy Scot­land’s only pod of bot­tlenose dol­phins.

„ There had been plans to move hun­dreds of thou­sands of tonnes of crude oil just off­shore.

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