Monday, February 18, 2008
A news story about the Sullom Voe oil terminal, and, seeing as this is a blog, what I think about it...
I did a bit of work on this last week, and while it was sent out to various news organisations, I can see why it failed to make headlines...it has a (very) disgruntled ex-employee, pictures taken several months ago, and rather too much balance for its own good. Maybe I should have gone all-out for the 'TOXIC TIME BOMB AT TERMINAL' line.
Still, the central image for me is of an entire sea-loch filled in with old buses, lorries, waste oil, chemicals and all the other shit no-one could be bothered getting rid of properly. Despite what Mr Okill quite understandably didn't see, it DID happen. I've since spoken to a very senior figure who watched those buses buried. And the incidental revelation that there was an oil spill in January into the Sullom Voe drainage system...och well. Yesterday's news, as they say. Until the chickens come home to roost. Or rather, the ducks, swans and otters don't.
A massive, 30-year-old landfill site at the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal in Shetland is under investigation after a former employee accused operators BP of deliberately ignoring 'serious pollution' in an environmentally sensitive watercourse.
In response, a team from SEPA, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, will visit the site this week. Terminal operators BP are set to install a new filtration system to purify groundwater later this year.
Former security guard Scott Shedden, 62, has worked at the terminal, Europe's biggest, since its construction phase in the late 1970s. He believes that photographs taken last autumn show the Burn of Crooksetter, a haven for swans, ducks, otters and rare Shetland sea trout, polluted with run-off water from the waste dump, which ceased to operate in 2002.
The photographs, seen by local SEPA officer Dave Okill, show a white scum and orangey-brown residue in the water. Last Thursday there were still signs of similar staining from one drain where it meets the burn, but the water for the most part looked clean and was healthily populated with waterfowl. Mr Okill was suffiently concerned to order a site visit.
"It's disgusting," said Mr Shedden,. "I took these pictures using an official security camera, and showed them to BP when I worked at the terminal, and they refused to do anything about it. They just said they had plans for the burn. I was there two weeks ago and things were in a similar state.
"What is running into that burn is coming from the thousands of tonnes of waste buried during the construction of the terminal. I personally dumped 55,000 litres of red lead paint there, still on pallets, and I saw two Landrovers bulldozed as well. There was thousands of pounds worth of copper wire, waste oil, vehicles and all kinds of things just covered over and left to rot."
During construction of the terminal, the sea inlet called Orka Voe was partly filled with peat and spoil from the development. The area was also licensed as a dump and according to local folklore, such was the scale of the contract that large numbers of vehicles were buried there rather than being disposed of professsionally. The Burn of Crooksetter was diverted by the work, but it has for many years been one of the jewels in BP's environmentally-sensitive crown, attracting birdwatchers and rare species in equal numbers.
"I've heard all the rumours - that there were 25 Triumph Toledos, accommodation units, fridges, washing machines and whole fleets of buses being buried there," said Mr Okill. "All I can say is that I was on site there from 1975 and never saw anything of the sort. And when the Clair (oil field) pipeline was run through that area, neither surveys nor excavations uncovered anything like that."
Mr Okill added that he and his staff had checked the Burn of Crooksetter on many occasions over the years. "I have never seen anything that would cause me concern." But having seen Mr Shedden's pictures, he said he was "a little concerned about the white substance." Previous samples had suggested that there was no problem in the burn.
"One of the best indicators of environmental contamination are trout. They are very sensitive to any levels of pollution. The fact that there has been a healthy population of Trout in the burn over the years would suggest that there are no long term problems in the area.
"Nevertheless, in the light of these pictures my staff will visit the site at the beginning on next week and carry out an inspection to see if they can find anything out of order or if there is any change in the area, and take samples to check the inputs from these pipes"
Janet Mullins, local spokeswoman for terminal operators BP, said there had been a licensed landfill site operating under SEPA guidleines until 2002. During that period there had been regular inspections by SEPA and no problem had been found. The landfill was no longer in operation. There had been regular inspections of the Burn of Crooksetter.
"These will continue over the operating life of the terminal," she said, "with all results monitored by SEPA." Any response advised by SEPA would be acted on immediately by the terminal operators. It was crucial for this to happen in order to obtain the necessary permissions to operate the site as a whole.
Over the past year, as part of groundwater monitoring, wells had been installed at the landfill to meet new requirements of the Integrated Pollution Prevention Control permit the terminal needs to operate, and which again is controlled by SEPA. "A hydro-geologist was brought in to supervise groundwater monitoring. This feedback has gone to SEPA and the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG)," Ms Mullins said. A new filtration system for groundwater 'leachate' will be installed later this year.
According to Mr Okill, "as for the existing licensed landfill which is in the reclaimed area, they (BP) have a notice of closure which means that they cannot landfill any more waste. We are currently preparing, in conjunction with them, a post-closure monitoring and aftercare plan, which will remain in effect until such time as the site is deemed to present no possible environmental risk; this is of course the same for all landfills."
Mr Okill confirmed that he was in discussion with BP about a spill of crude oil into the terminal's drainage system during January. This - never made public but thought to be substantial - was contained within a small waste water pool. Another very small sheen of oil escaped into the sea recently from a visiting tanker.
In 1983, waste oil was discovered in sediment on the sea bed at Orka Voe, and was blamed on contractors working on the site, although there was no evidence that this had leached out from the landfill.
Mr Shedden, who lives nearby, worked at the terminal for various contractors for almost 30 years, mostly as a painter and shot blaster. Latterly, he worked as a security guard, but lost his job last week after an investigation into alleged misuse of company fuel.He said he was concerned for the wildlife in the burn and in Orka Voe, where the watercourse reaches the sea.
"I'm appalled that BP did nothing about this despite being told about it by me and being given copies of these photographs," he said.
The giant Sullom Voe Oil Terminal processed its first crude oil in 1978, and remains crucial to the the UK's North Sea and now Atlantic undersea oil production. Its environmental reputation has always been exceptionally good.