CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to transfer crude oil in the open waters of the Moray Firth have blasted the Scottish Government for claiming it has “no power” to determine a licence.
Holyrood’s public petitions committee recently ruled that environmental concerns and the accountability of port authorities must be given more scrutiny, but Scotland’s environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham has insisted there is nothing she can do.
In a response to the committee’s findings Ms Cunningham said the Scottish Government is campaigning for the power to be devolved, but has no say over the matter at the current time.
This, however, has been fiercely disputed by members of campaign group Cromarty Rising which, along with other environmental campaigners, has also been making calls to the Scottish Government to refuse to grant a European Protected Species licence, to safeguard the firth’s resident population of bottlenose dolphins.
This in itself, it says, would prevent the transfers going ahead.
Ms Cunningham said: “Scottish ministers have no regulatory or legislative powers for determining whether a ship-to-ship oil transfer licence should be granted or not, this is why the Scottish Government continues to press for devolution.
“The subject matter of these regulations is wholly reserved to the UK government and the Scottish Government has no power to amend the application.”
Other Scottish Government ministers have also previously complained they were not consulted when the Port of Cromarty Firth submitted its original application in 2015, though it has since been revealed that government agency Marine Scotland was consulted.
It compiled four responses, but did not utlimately submit them.
Cromarty Rising member Duncan Bowers said: “Since submitting the petition, correspondence has emerged to show that the Scottish Government’s failure to respond has become the most significant threat to the marine environment and socioeconomic issues.
“It is now clear that four specific Marine Scotland reports were concealed from the consultation process and they included concerns over fish stocks and challenged the economic viability of the proposal.”
Responding officially to the environment secretary, Cromarty Rising said: “We agree with the broad statement that licensing of ship to ship oil transfers is the preserve of the UK government, however it is incorrect to say that the Scottish Government ‘have no regulatory powers over the process for determining whether a ship-to-ship oil transfer licence should be granted or not’.
“Documents obtained from Marine Scotland show clearly that, despite all ministers’ public statements to the contrary, the Cromarty Firth Port Authority did send them a copy of the application and formally invited them to comment, thus making the Scottish ministers one of the consultation bodies in this case; that Marine Scotland prepared four drafts of a response based on comments from in-house scientists; and also that in the end the Scottish Government made a policy decision to send no response, thereby knowingly waiving the opportunity to influence the MCA’s (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) determination of the application.”
Despite this, the Scottish Government has continued to defend its stance.
A spokeswoman said: “We were not invited to respond by the UK government during the original application process.
“As has already been made clear, Marine Scotland officials were included in a mass email from environmental consultants and were not statutory consultees.”
The port authority’s original application was withdrawn after the MCA identified a number of concerns.
In November the port authority said it was refining the application, undertaking further oil spill modelling to include a wider range of local weather and tidal factors as well as an assessment of the probability of collision risks.
It also said there will be further safety assessments of ship movements and grounding risks, and that it was working with Scottish Natural Heritage over further steps it could take to protect the area’s resident bottlenose dolphins.
A new application is expected to be submitted later this year.
Environmental groups fear the plan to transfer up to 8.6 million tonnes of crude oil per year between vessels at sea anchorages in the Cromarty and Moray firths could jeopardise the safety of bird marine life.
This includes the area’s resident population of bottlenose dolphins which attracts huge numbers of tourists to the area.
However, the port authority has said the transfer scheme could be worth £750,000 a year to the local economy.