by Zoe Cairns, Consultant, Environmental Management, ERT Ltd

Environment & Resource Technology Ltd has links with Orkney dating back to the early 1970’s. A relationship that began with a small marine survey group has developed into two office locations, extensive laboratory facilities and a large oil equipment testing facility with a local workforce of over thirty. Activities vary from marine resource management and development to detailed environmental and engineering consultancy for the oil and gas industry.

In 1974, the precursor of today’s ERT, the Institute of Offshore Engineering of Edinburgh based Heriot-Watt University, was taken on as marine consultant during initial planning stages for the Flotta oil terminal by the then operators, the Occidental group. IOE, and now ERT, has provided environmental consultancy and services to the terminal operators (currently Elf) ever since. This includes an ongoing monitoring programme to assess the potential impact of terminal operations on the marine environment and provision of specific advice on waste management and other environmental issues.

The relationship with the Flotta oil terminal and Orkney was further strengthened in 1988 with the establishment of the Orkney Water Test Centre (part of ERT Ltd) on the oil terminal site. The Centre was founded with oil industry financial support to provide an internationally unique onshore testing facility for pollution control equipment to be used on offshore platforms as well as monitoring instrumentation associated with water treatment in oil and gas production operations. Building on this experience of equipment trials, ERT is now very much involved in problem solving, trouble shooting and site services for the offshore and onshore oil and gas industry with regard to oily water treatment requirements. Further reinvestment has seen the Test Centre expand into other areas of water management, including the establishment of an experimental shellfish hatchery and ecotoxicology unit.

ERT’s activities in Orkney are not however limited to the Flotta terminal. Consultancy and research input have been provided on a number of different issues both to local industry as well as local government agencies. Much of this work has been extended to other similar island communities from Shetland to the Falklands. Topics are wide ranging and cover quarrying and sand extraction, seaweed utilisation, coastal resource management, lobster and scallop restocking, waste management, effluent disposal and alternative energy use.

Oil and gas developments in island waters, particularly those in the Atlantic Margin bordering Orkney, Shetland and Faroe, are high on the current agenda. Work has included preliminary environmental impact assessments for various offshore development options on behalf of the operators and evaluation of oil spill contingency plans on behalf of local island authorities. ERT also played a role in an internal BP review of its oil spill contingency plans to the west of Orkney and Shetland.

An interesting ongoing ERT project is the hydrocarbon fingerprinting of oiled birds washed up on the beaches of Orkney and Shetland. This work is being funded by the West of Shetland Oil Group and is a proactive move by the oil industry to demonstrate their high environmental standards in the area. Virtually all of the oil washed up on the shores of Orkney and Shetland to date has come from passing ships, rather than local oil related activities.

ERT’s work is not restricted to the isles and we have clients all over the world including Western Europe, Norway, West Africa, South East Asia, Brazil and the Former Soviet Union. ERT 's Environmental Management Unit in Stromness offers consultancy services to the international oil and gas industry, ranging from formal environmental impact assessments, to policy and legislation advice. This role is both aided by and provides support to the engineering capability of the Orkney Water Test Centre on Flotta and ERT’s comprehensive survey, monitoring and analysis capability based in Edinburgh. Through the use of ISDN links and e-mail, as well as extensive video conferencing capability, regular contact is maintained both between clients and other ERT locations. Documents and reports can be transmitted and delivered within minutes. Island necessity has encouraged full use of available computer technology and this has often given us the upper hand in international dealings.

Not all communication however, is distant. As well as staff members visiting client offices and developments across the UK and overseas, ERT has also welcomed visitors from all over the world to Orkney. Recent guests have included a team of Russians representing local government authorities from the Leningrad region. A new oil port development has been proposed for the St Petersburg area and the purpose of the visit was to give the group first hand experience of the impact such a development can have. More importantly, they wanted to learn how to optimise potential benefits whilst ensuring high standards in safety and environmental practices. A programme was therefore set up by ERT which enabled them to visit the Flotta Oil Terminal, the Orkney Islands Harbour Authority as well as ERT’s facilities on Flotta and in Stromness. The visit proved to be an extremely useful one for the Russians.

Of late, another piece of Orkney history has been replayed with the return of the Vikings to the islands. The Norwegian engineering giant Kvaerner recently took a minority but significant shareholding (25%) in ERT, with the remainder still being held by Heriot-Watt University. First serious contacts were made with Kvaerner through joint interests in environmental projects in the former Soviet Union, notably Azerbaijan, and a strong professional tie was quickily established eventually leading to a formal alliance. Central to this relationship are the strong university links maintained by ERT and the continued independence of ERT’s environmental services.

This new Scottish-Norwegian partnership should prove to be an exciting period in ERT’s history.