Oil Leak 21 – what SNH said……..

“At the end of the day, the statutory authorities – Marine Scotland, SNH, SEPA, Highland Council and RSPB, who were all consultees in this process – they’re the people that are going to say whether or not there’s going to be a potential risk to anything.”   Bob Buskie, Interview with Energy North, 16th December 2016.

In response to Port CEO Bob Buskie’s Energy North interview and his previous comments that he won’t do anything that the statutory consultees won’t let him do, we thought we look in more detail at some of those statutory consultee responses and see what they said. Now, they were commenting on the initial application and the revised application might be so good that those consultees see the error of their ways and accepts fully that STS will cause no harm. And pigs may fly. You can read the full SNH response HERE.

Here’s the headlines:

  • We do not agree with conclusion of the Environmental Statement that there will be no residual Likely Significant Effect on European designated sites.
  •   We advise the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as competent authority, to carry out an appropriate assessment.
  •   We advise that mitigation can reduce but not eliminate the risks to the integrity of several designated interests.
  •   We advise that it may not be possible to conclude no adverse effect on site integrity in relation to the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation (dolphins).

Well, that’s not a particularly good start and it doesn’t sound like that SNH thought there will be no problem! It shows a technically deficient environmental statement that has not made the case for there being no residual likely significant effect on European designated nature conservation sites. Then further, that mitigation (oil spill response measures etc), can reduce but not eliminate the risks to the integrity of not one but several designated site. Finally and significant, that it may not be possible to conclude no adverse effect in relation to the site designated for dolphins. That doesn’t sound like an environmentally benign project. Are SNH “scaremongering” or “jumping up and down”? (see oil leak 20 if you didn’t get that).

In their 12 page response, SNH make some excellent points:

  • It is important to emphasise that even a small volume of spilt oil in such an environmentally sensitive area is significant.
  • We advise that there is inadequate analysis of the potential impacts of an oil spill on designated sites and species and we do not agree that the conclusion in the ES of no Likely Significant Effect on European designated sites is justified or has been demonstrated.
  • ………the treatment of risk within the assessment is, in our view, optimistic.
  • The proposal is within an area of high natural heritage importance. The choice of location is a key mitigation that has not been considered within the ES.
  • The high importance of the inner Moray Firth and the Sutors for dolphins is not fully recognised and the potential effects of even 1 tonne of spilt oil on these animals has not been properly assessed.
  • The 1 tonne maximum spill has not been justified or substantiated and other potential causes of spilt oil have not been assessed.
  • The ES does not acknowledge……..that there are some residual risks of an accident occurring as part of the Ship to Ship (STS) process – including accidental fire/explosion and failing moorings during the transfer operation.
  • The ES states that there will be Likely Significant Effects on multiple designated interests but that these effects can be avoided with mitigation. The ES however does not assess the limitations of the mitigation measures which would be put in place to respond to an accident, should one occur. For example, the ability to deploy such measures, and their effectiveness, is dependent upon factors such as weather, currents and effective communication.
  • The ES does not recognise or consider the risks associated with the related increase in the volume of oil being moved around the Moray Firth.

Well Mr Buskie, these sound like some of things that the scaremongering minority from Cromarty Rising have been jumping up and down about. Here’s the killer:

  • In our view, this proposal is likely to have a significant effect on a number of European designated sites that have been screened into the ES. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as the lead competent authority, is therefore required to carry out an appropriate assessment in view of the sites’ conservation objectives for their qualifying interests. We advise that it may not be possible to conclude no adverse effect on site integrity, particularly in relation to the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation (dolphins).

Most people with that kind of answer from SNH would give up and accept that their plan probably wasn’t a good idea. But then Mr Buskie knows better, I guess SNH didn’t bother going through the science or have all the facts before they started scaremongering, we quote: “People jumping up and down and scaremongering and frightening the public about ‘oh, this is going to be a disaster’, without actually having all the facts, and without going through all the science, is slightly unfair.”

We’ll let SNH carry on:

  • We advise that the appropriate assessment considers a worst case scenario. The ES states that a spillage of is 1 tonne is the worst case scenario based on a ruptured hose with the total volume of oil contained within the hose being lost. We do not consider that this worst case scenario has been justified in the ES.

So SNH want the CFPA to consider a worse case scenario which seems perfectly reasonable, but the CFPA consider the worst that could happen is the loss of 1 tonne of oil in the event of a broken hose. Somewhat underplayed – what would happen if a 180,000 tonne crude oil tanker went on fire or it was attacked by terrorists, grounded or was involved in a collision? Well that would never happen would it? We’ll go into the reasoning for this 1 tonne maximum spillage in a future oil leak – it a great story!

Let see what SNH say about the dolphins and the location of the project:

  • We do not agree with the conclusion of the ES that there will be No LSE (like significant effect) on the dolphins……….This proposal could not have been located in a more sensitive location for the Moray Firth dolphins. The Sutors is the most used location for the most dolphins within the entire SAC and the North East Scotland dolphin population as a whole. The dolphins use the Sutors year round, with some seasonal variation. An estimated 102 individual dolphins used the SAC during the summer of 2011, 112 in 2012 and 94 in 2013. At the Sutors, dolphins were detected on over 90% of days in April, October, November and December, only slightly less than in the summer, and for on average between 5 and 7 hours per day. 48 – 57% of the entire Scottish east coast dolphin population regularly uses the Sutors, including the proposed anchor areas for the STS proposal.

Hmmm, so the proposal is in a sensitive location because of the dolphin population. Now what did Mr Buskie say the other day? Oh yes:

“But I guess what we feel aggrieved about is the frightening of people, all the scaremongering that we’re hearing – ‘its going to cause damage, it’s going to be bad for the dolphins, it’s going to be bad for the ecosystem and everything else.'”

I guess SNH don’t know what they are talking about then – they are no doubt making the next bit up:

  • Whilst we recognise that the risk of an oil spill occurring may be low, the consequences to the dolphin population as a whole are significant. Contrary to the statements in the ES that dolphins are “not particularly sensitive to oiling” the literature reports that dolphins are vulnerable to oil pollution and that they do not necessarily move away from spills. Numerous studies from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cite a range of impacts including:  Low survival rates and a high rate of reproductive failure.Unusually high rates of stranded dolphins including perinatal dolphins were observed post-spill.igh prevalence of multiple hematologic abnormalities and poor body condition.Moderate-to-severe lung disease. Changes in immune functions.

So I guess the effect of an oil spill on dolphins would be great. But what if there is no spill? What about the effect of noise then? Listen to SNH:

  • The proposal has the potential to affect the dolphins through underwater noise and disturbance associated with increased shipping movements and noise associated with engines and machinery, including pumps. It is unclear whether vessels will have engines running during the STS transfer, how many vessels will be involved (including tugs) and whether or not vessels will be using Dynamic Positioning (DP). Noise from DP, whether from vessels taking part in the STS transfer or ‘holding off’, is likely to be particularly disturbing for the animals. There is overlap between bottlenose dolphin communication vocalisations and the likely noise associated with STS transfers and there is the possibility that noise from the transfer operations may mask dolphin communication signals or effect foraging success.

Oh well, at least ballast water won’t affect the dolphins, will it?

  • Bottlenose dolphins can be affected by a range of pathogens found in coastal waters (including viruses, bacteria and fungi) although the link between pathogen levels in coastal waters and disease in dolphin populations is not clear. Ballast water discharged into coastal waters may contain human pathogens and dolphins are known to be susceptible to at least some of these. Most microbial pathogens are unable to survive for significant lengths of time in the marine environment, especially in the presence of sunlight. Terrestrially derived bacteria typically have lifespans of between 12-24 hours although if they become associated with suspended particles or accumulate in sediments this can be lengthened from hours to a period of days to weeks.

Surely there must be some good news in all of this? After all, we are just scaremongering. What about the sub-tidal sandbank that are important for juvenile fish stocks:

  • We do not agree with the conclusion of the ES that there will be No LSE on the subtidal sandbanks. Oil spills can negatively impact this qualifying interest through smothering and contamination of benthic species and habitats. The effects of anchoring and anchor scour will also result in direct disturbance to the sea bed.

Doh! Maybe some good news about seals then?

  • Common seals are vulnerable to oil spills, particularly during the breeding season (June, July and August inclusive) and when they moult. Even a small spill of 1 tonne at the Whiteness Head haul-out site would be significant if it occurred during the breeding or moulting season.

What about birds then, surely there is nothing that could harm them?

  • The qualifying interests of the Moray Firth dSPA (various bird species) have high sensitivity to oil spill, and for some species there could be risk of long-term population impacts in event of a major incident, meaning that the conservation objectives for the site may not be met and hence there may be a risk to site integrity. Some species may also be vulnerable to significant disturbance in particular locations or seasons (e.g. common eiders when flightless during moult).

    Cormorants? Surely not?

    “In the context of the STS proposal they tend to feed in sheltered waters close to the shore and during the breeding season rarely forage beyond 10km meaning any spill is likely to impact on a large proportion of the SSSI population.”

    Well SNH certainly seemed to have a lot of concerns about STS. They didn’t object, however the reason they didn’t object was that they felt that as they only act in an advisory capacity to the MCA, they were not in a position to object. Here’s the real stinger – SNH with all their legitimate concern have no power to stop this application. The MCA can choose to ignore their advice and grant the licence regardless.