Scottish Greens fight to block ship-to-ship oil transfer

Green politicians in the Scottish Parliament are again trying to highlight the environmental risks that come with allowing ship-to-ship transfer of oil off the Scottish coast.

This Wednesday a contingent from Forth Ports met with members of the parliament’s Environment and Rural Development Committee to weigh up the merits and threat of allowing such transfers.

At the moment, the decision ultimately rests with the port authority but Greens are pushing for tighter regulation which would outlaw the practice in Scotland.

Pumping oil from one ship to another is a cost effective way of transferring the liquid cargo, but while the risk of a spill is still tiny, it is greater than loading a ship in port.

Port authorities in some other parts of Britain have already banned the practice within their jurisdiction.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Sarah Boyack, deputy environment minister, also gave evidence but said she was unable to give a timescale on any proposals to change the law in Scotland.

Mark Ruskell MSP, Green speaker on the environment asked Ms Boyack what power the Executive has to stop the proposal going ahead.

Though the Executive and its advisers SNH can influence the decision, ultimate power on whether or not transfers go ahead lies with Forth Ports – until ministers press on with tightening up the law, which could be achieved through a straightforward amendment to current legislation.

Ministers had the opportunity to do this on January 17 when other changes to the EU Habitats Directive were brought forward, but they did not take that opportunity. Greens are now pressing for this to happen as soon as possible. Further, Forth Ports acknowledged that the potential for the creation of new jobs is relatively small – in the region of 20 to 40 posts.

Following the meeting Mr Ruskell said: “The Executive is dragging its heels on this, despite the clear sense of urgency from all those opposing the transfers. The proposals could go ahead before ministers have got their act together and tightened up the laws so that publicly elected politicians – not a private company – have ultimate power.

“It is obvious that protected species are at risk here, not to mention the livelihoods of communities in the area. Ministers have the power to act, they can also extend those powers by plugging any existing gaps in the law. They must now stop stalling and use their powers in the public interest.”

The Greens campaign has also included running a hotline, asking members of the public to phone in when they spot wildlife in the Firth of Forth. The line showed a sigificant numbers of marine mammals in the Forth.

According to the Green Party this could be used by Executive ministers to block the transfers on the basis that the plan would threaten species and habitats protect by EU law.

Sam Bond

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