This year has been an excellent year on the Cromarty Firth despite ongoing uncertainties regarding the future of the Nigg fabrication yard.
Captain Ken Gray, chief executive of Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA) told Energy that there has been a significant upturn in activity, and that the outlook for 2011 is bright.
He said: “The firth is having a very successful trading year with positive growth in all energy-related sectors.
“Crude oil activity through the Nigg oil terminal has grown 64% in the last 12 months, rigs alongside are up 20% and stacked in the firth up 14%. Subsea is up 6% and export of biomass-fuel pellets has jumped around 93%.
“We predict ending 2010 with five rigs stacked in the firth plus the Hutton TLP and one rig alongside.
“Indeed 2010 will be a record trading year for CFPA, and indications for 2011 are looking equally good within the oil/gas and renewable sectors.
“Even though Nigg hasn’t been sold yet, fortunately it is not the be all and end all of the Cromarty Firth. It’s a bit sad, but some people think only in terms of Nigg. There’s far more here than just that yard; though a sale is clearly needed.
“Employment’s been very good. Right now we probably have a skilled force of just over 1,000 people working around the firth. At one point during the year, the Invergordon Service Base was up to around 800. It’s probably around 500 just now, but that’s still significant.”
Gray said CFPA has invested more than £1million on two major infrastructure projects during the current year – one to provide more hardstanding and the other to enable the local fuels-supply market to be tapped.
“We’ve just finished preparing four acres of hard-stand,” he said. “That cost £850,000 and includes services such as draining and lighting.
“On the fuels side, we’re putting in a road tanker gantry so we can distribute fuel direct from the service base storage tanks. Ground-works are complete, arrival of the skid for the loading gantry is imminent, and we should be up and running by the third week in January.”
A further major addition this year is a large, new fabrication hall for Global Energy Services. The 2,400sq m facility is a major addition to Invergordon and is a hedge against the uncertainties surrounding the Nigg yard, where Global has leased shed space for some years and would like to acquire.
Gray said: “The new hall’s big advantage is that it has a crane-height lifting capacity of 22m (72ft). It’s a substantial building and stands the port in good stead.
“We’re steaming ahead. We can’t hang around for something to happen with Nigg, which has been on the market since the early part of 2005 since when nothing has happened.”
He added that the 2010 improvements would also stand the firth in good stead with renewables-related expansion.
But Gray warned that the firth’s considerable capabilities had been properly accounted for in the recently published National Renewables Infrastructure Plan prepared for Scottish Enterprise by consultants.
Gray said: “We’ve done quite well so far; 150 wind turbines onshore over the past four years. The firth was also used for assembly of the Beatrice turbines, plus we’ve been involved with four wave/tidal generators, the latest being Atlantis.
“Even without Nigg we can still be effective by developing what we’ve already got. You always have to have a plan B or the world will pass you by.”
Gray expressed disappointment regarding the current state of subsea activity, even though an increase is recorded for the current year.
He said: “While there was a burst of activity mid year, subsea has been quite slow. However, things are looking more positive next year and we expect business to pick up significantly in the spring.”
He is hopeful that the Nigg impasse will finally be solved in 2011.
He said: “We’d like to think that Nigg will get sold and back into operation. That would help us take advantage of a lot more business for the firth. Of course, if it doesn’t happen then we’ll just have to find other ways.”