Don’t Be Afraid but Do Be Aware – the Forth Estuary

Scotland’s largest and most important waterway, the River Forth and its Estuary, dominate the geography and life of Fife and the Lothians being, as they are, both barrier and benefit. We’ve learned to live with the barrier element and the benefits bring industry, employment and prosperity to the whole area. With the benefits, however, come major, potential hazards that the public should not fear – but be well aware of.

Though at its best looking serene and beautiful, the Forth is a busy, commercial river monitored and governed by local and national authorities, river and port authorities, environmental bodies and the general rule of law.

In the Forth lie:

Grangemouth, handling ship-borne cargoes of heavy fuel oils, toxic chemicals, high octane spirits and liquid petroleum gasses.

Hound Point Terminal, near south Queensferry, exporting millions of tonnes of North Sea crude oil by tanker.

Rosyth a busy port and previous nuclear submarine maintenance base, holding who knows what residual remains.

Braefoot Bay, opposite Hound Point, exporting liquid petroleum gasses from the Mossmorran Terminal.

All this is to say nothing of all the conventional shipping using the river, including the important port of Leith, and the ever increasing frequency of large cruise ship visits.

The Forth is evidently well organized and controlled, safety being paramount. Over time for sure many small incidents have occurred but have been dealt with efficiently and promptly, in many cases without the knowledge of the public – because nobody told us.

Not long ago, on top of all this activity’ a request for permission for Ship-to-Ship crude oil transfers to take place at designated river anchorages was received and, it is understood , after very lengthy and deep debate and discussion, narrowly rejected by the powers that be.

Did you know about this? Should you have known?

Investigation reveals this procedure not to be generally understood by the public at large who, having never experienced a major local disaster, are apparently comfortable with the status quo. However there is good reason to believe that the matter will be revisited in the foreseeable future.

The Forth estuary is geographically suited and provides sufficient reasonable shelter to allow this sort of activity and there aren’t too many places around that fulfil all the requirements.

Who wants it ?

Major Oil Companies want it to happen; Oil Traders want it happen; the Public Bodies and most Councils are favourably inclined but cautious; the Port and River Authorities are well aware of the commercial benefits that would accrue and also the high risk factors involved; our Environmental Guardians are at the moment totally against any such scheme; The General Public are vaguely concerned, though ambivalent and the mythical, yet to be identified and oft-mentioned, ‘many new jobs in the area’ provides an apparent satisfactory balm.

Why is it necessary?

Crude Oil, “black gold” the modern heart and soul of our civilisation is most economically transported in huge, bulk quantities – in enormous tankers. These marine leviathans are generally able to pick up their cargoes from a location near the production source but, because of their size, are unable to deliver to many of the locations where the world’s refineries are situated and where the oil is needed. So, as stated, they require safe, sheltered, deep-water anchorages where smaller ships may come alongside the ‘Mother Ship’ to take on board cargo for distribution worldwide. The ‘mother’ ships may even be used as floating storage to allow for oil market fluctuations in price and demand.

What’s all the fuss about?

Strong feelings still exist and the feeling remains that this project will be revisited. So, if it’s potentially so hazardous, why is it even being considered?

Surely if there’s the least question of possible irreparable damage to the environment then the whole idea should be shot down in flames. No need for melodrama but I’m sure we can all visualise the catastrophic devastation that thousands of tonnes of suffocating, thick black crude oil sloshing about from shore to shore of Scotland’s largest and most important river would bring.

Were you aware of any reassurances that were being was being offered? Was your opinion sought?

And what’s the point now?

The demands of international commerce nowadays rule all of our lives both directly and indirectly and when big business wants even more money it is often happy for other people, not directly involved, to take the physical risks.

Yet is this view short sighted and narrow minded? Is it a repeat of the ‘man with the red flag’ syndrome? Would ‘minimise the risks as far as possible and go for it’ be more reasonable and productive?

Some decision. What do you think? What would you do?

If this or any other, environmentally challenging issue is planned, it is to hoped that fullest details will be made available to the public.

So Don’t be Afraid but Do be Aware and Ensure that your voice is heard and that your Representatives and Decision Makers are made well aware of your fears, your feelings and your desires……… before it’s too late.

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