Oil stories from the Cromarty Firth

Tankers moored near the Nigg terminal

Forty years ago I researched and wrote an article, ‘Who’s Who in Nigg oil refinery row?’, exposing the shenanigans and collusion between oil industry moguls, MPs, councillors and local businessmen, detailing a stramash at Nigg Bay on the Cromarty Firth.

‘The proposal to build a £150million oil refinery, marine terminal and storage complex at Nigg, Easter Ross is creating a growing controversy. There have been parliamentary motions blocking Bills required to buy land for the refinery; BP’s chairman and his deputy have claimed that its construction would be ’a gross waste of resources’.  BP was the operator of the Grangemouth refinery on the Firth of Forth at the end of the company’s newly-opened pipeline from the Forties field in the North Sea. Ineos now own and operate the Grangemouth complex: for the workforce there under their stewardship, employment prospects have been less than secure.

The proposals by Cromarty Petroleum in 1976 presented the classic dilemma – a need for jobs versus the uncertainty and dangers from multinationals racing to exploit natural resources, straddling borders and bearing no allegiance except to their backers, bankers, cohorts and shareholders, offering work and untold riches, usually for landowners and lobbyists.

Cromarty Petroleum Company was in reality a £100 front operation which was 100% owned by Daniel K. Ludwig, an American multi-millionaire who lived in Bermuda. Daniel K. Ludwig was head of the D.K. Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, registered as a charity in Switzerland. The Institute owned a tax haven outfit, Universe Tankships, which operated fleets of tankers under the Liberian flag.

Through its PR firm, engineers, architects and noise specialists, Cromarty Petroleum produced expensive propaganda and reports: company consultants posted newsletters to local residents to promote the project. Ross and Cromarty County Council refused requests for a referendum from the Cromarty Refinery Opposition Workers (CROW), and turned down requests for a meeting with the consultants. CROW’s main objections to the refinery related to the disintegration of the trades structure, the lack of long-term employment prospects and the threat to the environment.

In August 1976 I tried to interview the main local in favour of the refinery, John Robertson, a Highland Regional Councillor and member of the Council’s Planning Committtee. My first – and only, as it happened – question concerned the mysterious circumstances and connections surrounding Cromarty Petroleum and advocates of the refinery project. Councillor Robertson stated that ‘the vast majority of people are overwhelmingly in favour of a refinery’, a mendacious statement serving as a harbinger for self-servers, media lackeys and the likes of Trump staff and supporters in the twenty-first century. Golf courses, real estate, multinationals, Globalisation, the Panama Papers, the mv Braer oil tanker spill in 1993, why don’t more folk learn more from the past?

Dr Jonathan Jenkins, partner of John Robertson in the company J and R Hykem Ltd., featured in a land speculation scandal when he was a director of Grampian Chemicals, whose grandiose schemes at Nigg had failed to materialise a decade earlier. Grampian Chemicals used similar promotional techniques to those employed by Cromarty Petroleum trying to boost a petro-chemical project in 1965. Councillor Robertson and Cromarty Petroleum strenuously denied any connection with Grampian Chemicals. A key director in daily control of Cromarty Petroleum since 1973 was none other than Dr Jonathan Jenkins.

Twice in 1974 Cromarty Town Council objected to the refinery project – the second time unanimously. Then the Public Inquiry Reporter recommended against the project in December 1975. The reasons reiterated and conceded the opposition’s main points – impact on landscape and wildlife, the effect on tourism and the fishing industry, limitations on the future development of the Cromarty Firth as a harbour and port, disruption and strain upon the infrastructure on top of recent and continuing industrial growth; above all, that there was no overwhelming need for such a project in either the national or local interest.


Contact Us at forviemedia for a scan of the full article ‘Who’s Who in Nigg’s oil refinery row?’ by Chris Ramsey, published in the Morning Star on September 7th 1976. The story partly inspired and formed the basis for the film ‘Local Hero’.My story (and other coverage) spawned features and a book, none of which acknowledged or credited ‘Who’s Who in Nigg’s oil row?’ as a source, not that I harbour a grudge (sic).

Tanker mooring in Arabian Sea
Tanker mooring in the Arabian Sea in 1989

Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth has a rich history as a town and a port. It was a naval base from the early 1900s; my father spent time there. Before his posting, famously three days of naval mutiny erupted during September 1931.

Anyway, from dredging up the past, let’s go to a controversy concerning Easter Ross in 2016. Tonnes of crude oil being blasted from one oil tanker to another, a tricky operation pumping at the rate of one tonne per second, in a Scottish area of outstanding natural beauty. What could possibly go wrong?

Cromarty Port Authority is deciding on whether to let tankers transfer oil in the Cromarty Firth. A huge public outcry stopped similar risky plans in the Firth of Forth. There have been warnings that ship-to-ship transfers could wipe out the area’s eco-tourism industry. http://www.thenational.scot/news/warning-oil-plan-could-wipe-out-eco-tourism-industry.17398 Transfers do already happen elsewhere in Scotland, including at the nearby Nigg oil terminal and at Scapa Flow, which are licensed and more controlled environments. Even then, there are real fears.

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/danger-to-sea-life-oil-spills 38 Degrees petition – dangers from oil spills

Conservation and wildlife groups warn of ‘severe threat’ from ship-to-ship oil transfer plans at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth

The Mariner B floating storage unit has arrived at Nigg after a 18,000 mile journey from the Samsung construction yard in South Korea. It will be deployed for hook-up and commissioning activities on Statoil’s Mariner development in the North Sea.

The Cromarty Firth – with redundant rigs stacked up – reflects the downturn in the (North Sea) oil industry at present.

Not an oil story but to conclude, on to renewables.. Nigg Energy Park on the Cromarty Firth is the best east coast location for the creation of jobs in the offshore wind industry. Port capabiliities at Montrose, Invergordon, Aberdeen, Methil, Dundee and Rosyth were also reviewed. Work at Nigg will involve turbine staging, storing and loading and the possible manufacture of large components. The yard had already won a contract to support construction of the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm.














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