Invergordon-based Port of Cromarty Firth boss reacts to Cromarty concerns over rig noise nuisance; Cromarty Firth at heart of row as campaigners claim rig impact hurting tourism and affecting sleep
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A PORT authority accused of blighting townsfolk's lives with noise and light pollution from out-of-service oil rigs has rejected claims it is ignoring local concerns.
Residents and business owners in Cromarty say glaring lights, loud noise and persistent vibrations from the giant structures are causing distress and sleep deprivation.
There are also fears the problem could damage tourism and the local economy.
Another large rig, the Transocean Leader, was anchored directly opposite Cromarty’s Royal Hotel, bringing the total number currently within the firth to 18.
But Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF) chief executive Bob Buskie said the authority already held regular meetings with community groups and was working hard to minimise disturbance.
He also emphasised the importance of the port’s work in servicing the oil industry to employment and the local economy.
Mr Buskie said: “We have received complaints directly regarding the rigs located off Cromarty and are working closely with local residents, the rig owners and Highland Council’s environmental health department to address local concerns.
“Over the last five years, the port has significantly increased its stakeholder engagement, including annual public meetings and one-to-one communications with residents.
“We work closely with the nine communities that surround the firth and have quarterly meetings with their community councils and development trusts, where concerns can be voiced.
“Our policy is one of engagement and dialogue and we have established clear channels of communication.”
Stressing the port’s economic importance, Mr Buskie said: “The trust port was set up 46 years ago to service the oil and gas industry because of the firth’s deep, sheltered waters.
“Anchoring rigs safely in the firth has always been part of the services offered and has been a major source of employment.
“The anchorage points for rigs are chosen by the rig owners and their insurance companies, in conjunction with the port.
“It is a complex decision based on a number of factors including vessel draft and water depth, proximity to where work may be undertaken, availability of anchorage locations and the nature of the seabed.
“This process, and it’s very strict criteria, ensures the integrity and safety of the rig and surrounding environment.
“We take local concerns into account wherever possible, including potential noise disturbance. A number of rigs have implemented measures to mitigate these concerns.”
Mr Buskie refuted claims the current high number of oil rigs present was likely to be a long-lasting scenario.
He said: “We have experienced a significant increase in rig arrivals in the past four months due to the collapse in oil demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have received complaints directly regarding the rigs located off Cromarty and are working closely with local residents, the rig owners and Highland Council’s environmental health department to address local concerns. " - Bob Buskie, Port of Cromarty Firth
“However, we expect this situation to be short-lived. Some of these rigs will return to work when drilling and exploration activity resumes in the North Sea and others will leave to be safely decommissioned.
“When the rigs return to work, they will create much-needed jobs for people across the region.”
PoFC - with record profits last year of £4.2 million - was also criticised for giving little back to communities like Cromarty with calls for the creation of windfarm-style compensation funds.
But Mr Buskie added: “Last year, through our discretionary community sponsorship programme, we invested more than £36,000 in communities that surround the firth, including projects which benefited the Cromarty community.
“As a trust port, our profits are reinvested in development of the port. In the past six years, over £55 million has been invested in port facilities to attract jobs and projects associated with the offshore wind industry and cruise market.
“(These) will create sustainable, well-paid employment opportunities for local people well into the future.
“The statutory and legal obligations under which the trust port was created makes it unlawful for us to give any form of financial compensation directly to communities from our business activities.”
'Sound pollution is very real'
Our story last week generated a lot of online debate with some noting the Cromarty Firth's long history with rigs and others to the employment the sector has supported.
Cromarty resident Ingrid Rochford though said: "The visual impact is only part of the story.
"Whether you like them or loathe them is in your eye. However the sound pollution is something very real. For those living in Cromarty with three rigs just off our shore line the noise throughout the night can be awful.
"At points it’s so loud that you feel the vibrations. This is leaving many residents sleep deprived and quite rightly unhappy. The latest arrival is particularly bad and is right outside our harbour."
Kathleen Sutherland was amongst those taking to our Facebook page. She wrote: "If it wasn’t for the Port Authority, Nigg and Technip working in the firth, the Black Isle and Ross-shire would be full of ghost towns with no work for folk."
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