CONTROVERSIAL proposals for ship-to-ship oil transfer in the Cromarty Firth will be resubmitted despite a 100,000-strong public petition voicing concerns about the potentially disastrous impact on the environment and a world-renowned colony of dolphins.
The Port of Cromarty Firth, which is behind the plans, has also this week hit back at claims senior management declined to meet church leaders committed to measures "that protect God’s creation".
The latest developments come after a delegation from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met with campaigning community groups Cromarty Rising and Nairnshire Rising, along with representatives of the marine eco-tourism industry which plays a significant role in the local economy.
The Invergordon-based Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF) this week confirmed following an annual public meeting that it "remains committed to attracting oil transfers back into the safety of the Firth" while continuing discussions to bring Nigg Oil Terminal back into use.
While the campaign groups said they were "shocked" to learn management at the port had "declined" to meet the church delegation, PoCF issued a rebuttal, including a letter dated October 13 making clear the requested date in November was unsuitable.
A spokeswoman said: "The port did not decline to meet with the Church’s representatives. We would have been delighted to meet with them as part of our ongoing consultation process, but unfortunately they came to us late, gave us one very specific time and date, and offered no flexibility. This date and time was unsuitable for the Port’s senior team.
"Everyone at the Port of Cromarty Firth shares the Church’s environmental concerns. The protection of the pristine waters, the wildlife and the habitats of the Firth is one of our main priorities and is a legal obligation. We would not be applying for this licence if we thought it would endanger the marine environment.
"The Port remains committed to attracting oil transfers back into the safety of the Firth. Discussions are ongoing with the owners and operators of Nigg Oil Terminal to bring it back into use, and work continues on refining the application for ship-to-ship oil transfers at anchor. We still don’t have a definitive date for the resubmission of the refined application."
Earlier this year, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voiced strong concern for the environmental impacts and declared it would sanction a fact-finding tour to listen to communities and businesses.
Included in the plans were representatives of the Aberdeen University Field Station in Cromarty – leading experts on the Moray Firth dolphin population – and Cromarty Rising.
The campaign group has conducted extensive research into the implications of the transfer of millions of tonnes of crude oil for the environment, communities and the regional economy.
It notes the dolphins are the only bottlenose dolphin group in Scotland and a listed protected species and that the Moray Firth is a designated Special Area of Conservation, protected to the highest standards in Europe.
Concerns focussed on the disturbance of this iconic species when rearing their young and the welfare of stranded cetaceans in the event of an oil spill.
Cromarty Rising accuses PoCF chief executive Bob Buskie of ignoring the wishes of 100,000 objectors.
A spokesman for the group said: "When asked how the objections of over 100,000 people were to be considered, Mr Buskie said he would make his application anyway and it was up to the UK Government to decide. Public objection on a massive scale clearly has no effect on the port’s decision-making."
In his letter to the General Assembly’s Church and Society Council convener, Rev Richard Frazer, Mr Buskie wrote that the Firth "has one of the safest records in the world for oil transfers, which are necessary to move oil around the world and bring it onshore where it is converted into fuel, plastics, detergents etc. Over 175 million barrels of oil have been transferred safely in the Firth over the past 30 years and the port is confident this safety record would continue under the proposed additional licence."