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16 October 2014
Social Change: Employment 1945 to 1979

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Impact on Shetland

Map of shetland with an oil rig over it.

Shetland oil

The Shetland Islands are a group of about 100 islands lying 130 miles north of the Scottish mainland. Only 15 of them are inhabited. Zetland County Council (ZCC), now Shetland Islands Council (SIC), recognised the potential effects of the discovery of the Brent Oil Field and then the Ninian Oil Field for the economy and the environment of the islands and the island way of life.

The oil companies were looking for a site on the Shetland mainland as close as possible to the oil production platforms, with deep water that would allow large oil tankers to load their cargoes of oil. The council appointed consultants to advise on the location of a suitable site where the oil from the rigs could be piped, before being loaded onto the tankers which would take it all over the world. The council's objective was to identify an area, or areas, where the environmental impact would be minimal.

Sullom Voe was selected for the terminal and a deal was struck with the oil companies. Between 1973 and 1982 Sullom Voe was one of the biggest construction sites in Europe, with up to 6,000 people employed building the oil terminal. Vast amounts of peat had to be cleared, and Orka Voe, to the north of the site, was filled in. Millions of gallons of oil flowed each week from the Ninian and Brent oilfields to Sullom Voe. Then it was loaded onto tankers berthed at the piers in the Voe that could take up to four 400 metre long tankers at any time. The construction of the oil terminal at Sullom Voe had an enormous effect on the islands' communities and economy, particularly throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1974, a new law ad gave the local council considerable control over developments in and around the islands and, during these years, it showed how local people could work with the large international oil companies to get the best deal for the local community.

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