Oil company Total has been granted planning permission for its £500 million gas plant at Sullom Voe after agreeing to alter its plans so that local businesses benefit from the lucrative construction work.
In response to the concerns raised by councillors on Wednesday, Total is to look at making more use of local rock aggregates, tar and other building supplies instead of shipping them all in from outwith Shetland.
Around 135,000 cubic metres of rock infill is needed for the site and the intention at the moment is to import it and everything else by sea over the old council-owned construction jetty at Sullom Voe.
But councillor Jim Budge said that discriminated against local industries and it would be “a worry” for the local economy if every last bag of cement and pound of nails was brought in from outside.
Total representative Anne Hoy said the company only decided to import materials because it understood the local communities near Sullom Voe were against large aggregate lorries on their roads. If there was a feeling that it would be appropriate to use local materials instead she said Total would assess that because local sourcing was preferable.
Her reference to opposition to lorry traffic probably stems from protests in Brae four years ago when plans for a super-quarry in Northmavine required lorries constantly carting loads of stone to the Sullom Voe construction jetty for export.
Changing Total’s logistics plan will first require public consultation and environmental assessment by the planners. Planning officer Janet Barclay Smith said that although local communities had not objected to the Total plant application they might have if trucks were going to be running constantly over their roads.
The gas plant is expected to provide construction jobs for four years with up to 500 workers required at its peak. It is a vital part of a £2 billion plan by Total to pipe gas from the Laggan/Tormore field west of Shetland to the national gas grid in Scotland.
The project has yet to be finally sanctioned by the company although that is expected next month. Work on building the access road and clearing peat from the site could get under way in April.
The site is on part-council-owned land to the east of the existing oil terminal, across the Burn of Crooksetter. Ms Smith said the complex would be “quite well hidden” apart from a flare stack and the access road, which will follow the line of an existing farm track.
Only five of the eight councillors on Shetland Islands Council’s planning board were at Wednesday’s meeting in Islesburgh Community Centre to consider the project. They toured the site last week and chairman Frank Robertson described it as an excellent one.
But he echoed councillor Iris Hawkins’ concern about Total’s failure to agree to set up a community fund to provide grants to organisations in the areas most affected by the commotion and inconvenience of the construction phase.
Mr Robertson said it was disappointing given the considerable disruption that lies in store and he thought it would have been be one of the first matters to be addressed by Total for a development the size of the gas terminal. Ms Hoy said she would take that message back to Total.
No concerns were voiced by councillors regarding Total’s plan to dig out 236,000 cubic metres of peat and store it in three reservoirs on site for reuse when the terminal comes to the end of its estimated 30-year lifespan.
The Laggan/Tormore fields are only expected to last up to 18 years but the pipeline from west of Shetland will take gas from other fields in the Atlantic frontier that are currently being assessed for production.
The pipes will be laid down Yell Sound before coming ashore at Orka Voe. Once processed, the gas will go through a new overland pipeline to Firth and out the voe, eventually joining into the Frigg pipeline 145 miles offshore to go to the St Fergus gas terminal near Peterhead.
A light oil condensate taken from the gas at Total’s plant at Sullom is expected to add an extra 10,000-15,000 barrels a day to the old terminal’s tanker exports.
Shetland North councillor Alastair Cooper welcomed planning approval but called for the uncertainty about local contractor involvement to be resolved quickly.
He said Total’s gas operation was an opportunity to keep the oil economy going to benefit the North Mainland. “It gives the young folk a lift and you need them to have confidence in the community to go and get a mortgage and build a house, knowing that they have a job.”
His colleague Bill Manson, a former BP employee at Sullom Voe, said he believed it was a good development for Shetland and hoped it would go ahead and be successful.