Islay Oil Supply Problems - It is Happening Again

The oil supply problems on Islay are now becoming an annually recurring event. With the falling of the leaves and the increase of the wind speeds during autumn and winter months, the distilleries and farms have to fear for oil shortages and production disruptions. Last week a Shell tanker, Keewhit, left Loch Indaal without unloading its cargo, knowing that oil reserves are already low on Islay. Reasons given were the bad weather conditions?!? Apparently wind speeds of less than force 2, higher tides than usual and waves lower than 50cm are acceptable for Shell tankers to dock at Bruichladdich pier, providing the tankers are sailing with a half load. Fully loaded they would never make it anywhere near the £3m pier. So why did they built it in the first place? And who is reponsible? Now these are difficult questions to be answered. It seems that no one really is responsible; Argyll and Bute Council ordered to build a pier according to Shell's specs, Shell in the meanwhile happily blames the weather if they can't deliver, the distilleries are just doing a fabulous job by increasing production for which they need more oil, nature is doing what it always does, being unpredictable, and silting continues near the pier, even though dredging works did take place. Now who or what is to blame here? And what really is the problem? How do they do that in other parts of the world? And most important, what will they do about it, and when!? Cancel the delivery by tanker all together and use the ferry instead? Will Calmac be able to deal with all these extra lorries? If not, can they increase capacity even further on a short notice? A meeting will take place today in Glasgow to ensure oil supplies reach the distilleries, farms and others on Islay according to an article in the Herald.

A quote: A series of failed attempts to land oil has led to distillery managers and officials from the Scotch Whisky Association meeting with executives of Shell and Argyll and Bute Council to reach a solution. Problems with dredging and changes to the harbour are thought to have made it difficult for large tankers to dock unless the weather is near-perfect. The most recent incident took place last Wednesday and alternative supplies from road and ferry had to be arranged. Argyll and Bute Council said last week's failure was due to strong waves. A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "The industry is concerned about ensuring a sustainable supply of oil to Islay. There is a need for a long-term solution to be reached for the industry."

Following is an article from last week's Ileach with more information about the current situation: At 17.00 hrs on Wednesday 24th October the oil tanker ‘Keewhit’ left Islay without offloading her cargo of heavy oil for the distilleries after spending almost three days anchored in Loch Indaal waiting for appropriate weather conditions to enable her to lie against the new Bruichladdich Pier. Exactly the same thing happened at this time last year when some of Islay’s distilleries were forced to halt production until oil was trucked in by road and CalMac ferry. The Ileach understands that the immediate situation is even worse this time with stocks of oil at the distilleries and Gleaner currently extremely low. CalMac are however running two ferries to Islay this winter so ferry capacity will exist to truck oil on to the island at least until 10th November when the Hebridean Isles goes for one of her various annual refits.The ‘Keewhit’ abandoned the operation in what, in Islay winter weather terms were positively benign conditions. The wind varied slightly during the day on Wednesday between 17kph (south easterly force 3) at 07.00hrs and 22kph (southerly force 4) when she departed at 17.00hrs. These measurements were derived from Port Ellen on There were reasonably high spring tides at the time, so it is unlikely that depth of water was the issue for the very lightly laden tanker. Why then, did she leave? We are assured by Argyll and Bute Council that there is nothing wrong with the pier. We are assured that Shell are completely happy with the new structure. The evidence that one of these two positions is incorrect is unequivocal. The specifications of the new pier were of course determined by Shell who basically blackmailed Argyll and Bute into spending around £3 million of taxpayers money on building it for them. If Argyll and Bute are right, and there is nothing wrong with the pier they have provided, what they presumably mean is that they have delivered a pier according to Shell’s specification. Argyll and Bute do not therefore believe it is their problem. If the Council are to successfully “pass the buck” to Shell in this manner then the public have a right to know why they feel justified in doing so. Who did write the original specification for the pier? Who signed it off as fit for purpose? The legitimate concerns of the local community who argued vainly for an environmentally sensitive structure that would have provided benefit for local people were ignored at the planning stage by local politicians.

In this context, how did a structure which only ever had a single purpose, become so flawed? There are a number of important points of public interest that need to be considered as well as the question of cost. Central heating oil for domestic boilers plus diesel fuel for cars, commercial and agricultural vehicles are delivered by ship via Bruichladdich pier. Supplies of all these commodities must now be questioned. This is now an extremely serious situation. Nothing whatever appears to have been achieved over the past twelve months with regard to solving this issue. Pressure from the distilleries has forced the Executive to provide a two ferry service to Islay through the winter months, but there are still gaps totaling five weeks due to ship maintenance that are threatening to cause further problems. We now have a situation with distillery production disrupted, throwing further pressure onto an overstretched ferry service, plus a £3 million pound Council owned white elephant that is useless in a southerly force 3. What happens next is open to speculation but there is surely no way that Shell are going to carry on sending a half-empty tanker to sit in Loch Indaal waiting for a force 2 to arrive from a suitable direction. The fuel will therefore have to come in by road, with the taxpayer forced to pick up another bill for more massively subsidised ferries. If the £3 million Bruichladdich pier is not fit for purpose, and Argyll and Bute Council continue to insist that they have done nothing wrong, then Shell must surely be held liable? If this is not the case, then the Council, who are ultimately accountable to their electorate, must now explain their position.

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