Fishermen’s spokesmen are furious that a solution for “dangerous” gas industry pipelines in Yell Sound has not been forthcoming despite the announcement that the first gas is flowing through the Shetland Gas Plant.
According to industry leaders a large swathe of Yell Sound has been taken off the charts thanks to heaps of rock up to nearly 4m deep having been dropped on two accessory pipes that run alongside the Laggan-Tormore pipeline.
The two smaller pipelines carry services and power to the gas pipes and also a chemical anti-freeze, monoethylene glycol, to help the gas flow. The rock is supposed to protect them from fishing gear.
Fishermen are being warned to steer clear of the pipelines or face gear damage, or worse still, fastening on the rubble. They say Total, the owners of the Laggan-Tormore development and SGP, have been incommunicado for months but have a commitment to do something about opening up the area for scallop dredging.
Total insists that it consulted extensively before installing the pipes. Subsequently it funded trials to investigate if there were any problems and to find potential solutions.
The company says fishermen’s leaders have not taken up the opportunity to meet company representatives.
Fishermen said trials to assess the effect of the armouring, undertaken by the local scalloper Kestrel and the larger trawler Fairway, came to an early end last year owing to the amount of damage being caused to the smaller vessel’s gear. Many inshore boats operate in Yell Sound because of the good quality fishing grounds.
Kestrel skipper Gary Leask said that his vessel twice suffered gear damage in trials, including hydraulics. He said: “We are concerned about snagging on the pipe and also the quantity of rock that is down there.
“For a smaller boat the weight of rock could lead to you capsize in the worst case scenario. It’s dangerous for the inshore fleet to be fishing over.”
Figures from the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway show that the MSC-accredited scallop fishery is worth around £1.9 million to the inshore fleet.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said that while individual claims may yet be made against the gas company, Total have a moral obligation to the community to sort out the “mess they have created.”
If a technical solution is out of the question, then Total should look at funding research or making some other sort of restitution, he said.
He said that while any rock dumping was not welcome, fishermen had been promised that any damage would be “minimal.”
While plans had been for material up to one-metre high on top of the pipes, the rock was up to 3.8m high and could be even more in places.
Mr Collins added: “On the basis of the trials that our boats carried out we felt it was necessary to caution skippers about the dangers.
“Meanwhile, our efforts to persuade Total to take action to create safe crossing points for vessels have really got nowhere.
“It’s time for Total to take seriously its own promises to the community and Shetland’s long-term prosperity.”
Mr Collins quoted Total’s own website saying, “Total and its partners are committed to conducting their business with care and respect for the environment and with the principles of sustainable development”.
He added: “What we want is for Total to come back and take its responsibility seriously.”
It has been suggested that the company that undertook the pipeline burial dumped far more rock than necessary on the seabed. That, said Mr Collins was irrelevant, and whoever was to blame for the hazardous pipeline, it was Total’s duty to sort out.
SFA chairman Leslie Tait said that dialogue with the gas giant had gone back about four years and it had always been the industry’s understanding there would be areas where it would be possible to tow across the pipeline.
Mr Tait said: “You could only stay clear of this [in Yell Sound] with great difficulty. This has taken away a lot of the grounds.”
He added that Yell Sound was in itself a sheltered area for small boats to fish in bad weather and now a large part of that option was being taken away, leaving the boats with the choice to fish outside or go and tie-up. The pipeline was also affecting a squid fishery that took place in parts of Yell Sound.
Shetland Shellfish Management Association chairman Ian Walterson said Total observers had gone off with the local boats and seen the damage for themselves. Despite that, Total seemed “uninterested” in speaking with fishermen and there has been a “distinct lack of consultation with the fishing industry.”
He said that the issue had been discussed many times at the SSMO board.
“We are very concerned and disappointed that this has happened. It seems like it has destroyed quite a large area of fishing grounds in Yell Sound.”
“You could only stay clear of this [in Yell Sound] with great difficulty. This has taken away a lot of the grounds.” LESLIE TAIT
A statement released by Total Exploration on Tuesday said: “As part of the Laggan-Tormore development, Total installed pipelines that pass through the Yell Sound. There was an extensive public consultation, which included the Shetland Fisherman’s Association, and no objections were raised. All the pipelines were then installed in accordance with the relevant DECC permits.
“Concerns were later raised by the SFA about near-shore vessels being able to trawl in the Yell Sound. Total have been actively engaging with the SFA to explore these concerns.
“Total funded the SFA to carry out studies and trials in July 2015 to examine the issue and invited them to propose solutions based on the results of those trials. We have yet to receive any proposal from the SFA in regard to possible solutions following these trials. Total have been seeking meetings with the SFA since those trials took place and to date we have received no response to our invitations.”