Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona on June 30, 1973 · Page 91
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Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona · Page 91

Phoenix, Arizona
Issue Date:
Saturday, June 30, 1973
Page 91
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Page 91 article text (OCR)

Oi7 in TVbr/A Sea spells turmoil for ^ Scottish isles ALL EDITION3 C - '/ By RODNEY FINDER Associated Press SHETLAND ISLES, Scotland - In the lost and lonely North Sea .there is a land where people never lock their doors and hospitality awaits 'inside, women stroll' the streets at nights without a care, rare birds and tiny ponies and contented people share an air-like crystal and the last time a man took another's life was three centuries, ago. In the North Sea there is also oil, For the people of the Shetland Isles, remote" in a see-through sea between Scotland and the North Pole, that is not entirely welcome news. The promise of undreamed of riches flowing from offshore wells has this normally sedate, unworldly archipelago in a turmoil of doubts and fears. An American oilman came to the only town and promised that his company would bring Shetland folk "happy mornings." The silence from the far- flung crofts and lonely islands was at first deafening, as the prosperous people with laughing eyes digested the words with their three-course breakfasts. Then came a split that now threatens to pull the' 17,327 Shetlanders into opposing militant camps — those who are determined at all costs to protect their way of life, outstanding in Britain for'its quality, and those who are anxious to reap the benefits from the biggest development to hit the islands since the industrial revolution. "So called civilization is reaching out. to clutch us, offering the technological, avaricious society," says the Rev. Clement Robb whose short, thick frame stands at the head of those fighting against an uncontrolled oil boom. "If Americans want oil, then let them build a refinery in a corner of their own country." Outwardly Shetland is an inhospitable place. The clutch of 100 islands, 20 of them inhabited, lies north of the Scottish mainland, a half hour's flight by an aged propeller-driven airliner, which has no alcohol on board because problems of weight tend to make landings tricky on the tiny airstrip. The islands are swept by icy winds presented with their first land obstacle as they screech, often at hurricane force, southward from the arctic. No trees can survive the biting blast and the landscape of rugged moorland and forbidding' cliffs is relieved only by whitewashed solitary cottages with black tarred roofs. Dwarf-like Shetland ponies with long hair huddle in fields with black-faced sheep whose wool fuels looms and spinning wheels like the one in the pages of "Sleeping Beauty." . The sea dominates life. Two thousand years ago the Romans called Shetland the ultima thule—the end of the earth — and Tacitus recorded: "Nowhere does the sea hold wider away." Fingers of the Atlantic in the west and of the North Sea in the east reach far inland up deep, ice-scoured valleys. In winter, when it is so cold a man's skin comes off on contact with bare metal, wrinkled, bowed women wrapped in shawls cut peat from the land for their fires. Yet the wild, windswept land — the snow flies horizontally — offers shelter to an amazing variety of bird life resting on migratory journeys. King Eiders, bee-easter and red-rumped swallows mingle with the fat gulls that honk around the tiny fishing boats. There is hospitality here in abundance for people, too. The folk are welcoming and for hundreds of years have never locked their doors. Knock on any portal day or night and a warming whisky and home-made fruit bread are on the table. Crime is virtually unknown. Parking offenses are front-page news in the newspaper at Lerwick, which shelters 6,127 persons and is the archipelago's only town. The North Sea is proving rich in one of the world's most valuable and Increasingly rare commodities. Soon between 20 and 30 oil rigs are expected to be working around Shetland, and one major company, Shell, has tapped a well capable of producing 300,000 barrels a day — a third more than the entire present demand of oil for the whole of Scotland. The pipelines to Shetland could be operating by 1975. Most Shetlanders wish the oil would simply go away. They are prosperous enough without it. But Britain, economically ailing, needs it, and it must come. An American company, Milford Argosy of Oklahoma City, has proposed a refinery that would need 500 men to run- and at least 4,000 to build — the same as Shetland's total work force at the moment. The refinery, processing a quarter-million barrels a day, would be one of the biggest in Europe and would eat up 650 .acres of land tilled over generations by hardy crofters. A Scottish company has plans for oil storage tanks and work. is now under way on port facilities for hundreds of ships serving the giant' seabound oil rigs. ! Shetland County Council, which has fussed all its 1 life over schemes involving hundreds of: pounds, now is deluged by oil company zeros. "The numbers of , „ , r ' The quiet waterfront at Lerwick in the Shetland Isles could soon be crowded with oil refineries, tankers, and pumps noughts leave me reeling," confessed one city father. The council sees new roads replacing the single tracks where sheep have the right-of-way, new schools, new houses, new hospitals, new shops, even a new town. Many Shetlanders are not impressed. Who needs it, they ask. Fishermen have a hard, but rewarding life and it is fairly common for them to earn 10,000 pounds ($25,000) a year, more than five times the British industrial average. There is practically no unemployment .and indigenous industries like fishing, fish processing, knitwear and arts and crafts are expanding. Nevertheless the council has earmarked a development area around Sullom Voe, a long, deep North Sea sound capable of taking 500,000-toTi tankers. Orders for compulsory purchase of land are .ready and the crofters farming there say their homes can be bought up at 28 days notice. "How do I get out in a month with 2,000 sheep?" demands Bertie Johnson, 35, who lives at Sullom Voe with his wife, Nan, and two daughters in a bungalow he built with his own hands. Mr. Robb, 5-feet-4 and 180 pounds — "I'm built like Napoleon" — leads a group of city fathers concerned by the "grandiloquent" plans of town hall officials. The 32-year-old Clergyman, who fled city life to get closer to people, has Sullom Voe, a potentially bigger anchorage than Amsterdam, in his parish. Thirty of his parishioners may lose their homes and his entire congregation of 750 persons will be directly affected. He also worries about, the effects of pollution on the rich bird life. "We shall fight in the hills and use everything legal and, it necessary, illegal to stop them coming," he insists in his tiny, immaculately furnished cottage,sitting behind heaps of files and papers to do with oil, politicians and lawyers. He tells of parishioner Maggie, a widow of 70, who lost her husband and only son in World War II. "She has been in her house all her days with a couple of sheep in the yard — what right has anyone to come and take it away from her? That's not democracy." He admits Sullom Voe is not the prettiest place in the world. The land is harsh and yields a living reluctantly, demanding long hours of unremitting hard toil. "But it's a way of life and people love it or else they wouldn't be here." Mr. Robb and others like him are not totally against oil. He recognizes nothing will stop it coming. He is concerned that its arrival should be gradual and controlled. He canceled Sunday service one day, took a poll of his parish, and found 97 per cent of the voters were behind him. "I'm not for the primitive life — earth floors and goats in the hall," he says. "But we have a way of life here different from any in the United Kingdom. We are extremely proud and of of council drive is to make the most out of a boom, one qualified official said he felt advantages might be outweighed by disadvantages unless proper care is taken. A social worker in Lerwick fears the oil could bring poverty, not prosperity. He fears for people on fixed incomes, small storekeepers faced by an invasion of supermarkets, young newlyweds who already find it difficult to buy a home as the price of land has doubled with word of the approaching boom. He also sees trouble from several thousand construction workers looking for play on paynight. Lerwick has only a handful of small bars, one movie theater, one tiny dance hall where male customers are frisked — to prevent liquor from being carried in. The bottles are smuggled by the girls who are not searched. Council officials will not speak directly for quotation about oil; it is a sensitive question. But, although the official Standing on the harbor front —».„ .,the cackling of seagulls drowns traffic^ noise and the only pollution is; the;v? discharge of a fishing boat bilge pumgj-^ he remarked: "It would be unwise:.t<&£ say we are not in for trouble:" social crime does exist is usually dealt with by! $>p term of probation for the offender. "And>g in this society everyone is his neighb;m£|*C£ probation officer — everyone knows^w everyone else." : v>£Sy The last murder on. Shetland was'm>C 1650. Police say drugs — beyond as^ ;'* pirins to cure hangovers — are virtually unknown. The backers of boom say Shetland's >. tradition of exporting its best brains will.^ benefit from oil. The cream, until-:* recently, have left to make fullest use^ ofC> their considerable talents. One conv> ;: ? munity of 200 people had seven shipJs masters, two of them company fleet ,> commanders, at one time. Shetlander_s>>"£ are usually at the top of their classes in-"** the Scottish mainland universities of n ? Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St. Andrews and; ; <£ Glasgow. . ; '**&* "Now these people will be able to s.tajt>£ here — and we hope many will c'bmV"' back — to take advantage of the new horizons opening up," said a source in ; the town hall. He sees not only a ; refinery and tank farm coining but a ; whole range of oil activities, entailing : proLably a new town and a new way of : life that could last 200 years. "Shetland " could become an oil city," he said. ••*.< *; Shetland was altering anyway," he*.v insists. "A few years back people were>^ fighting television — but it came and we;"-* have not suffered." "£*;,) »' ji Two groups of people have alrea^i^ suffered, however — the Shetlant$*j golfers and the people of the outlying^ islands. ';'•••'$• To assist communication the counclp : began a car ferry service for t{ur.! remote islands. A policeman arrived on*-the Isle of Unst on the first boat. Now the islanders must buy insurance and pay road tax for their cars. One man, ^ the Shetlanders are fond of relating, had been driving around for five years with a beer bottle label in his windshield tax disc holder. The golf course at Sumburgh on the southern tip of the main island is bisected by the airstrip. Since oil was mentioned and the oilmen converged to investigate, flights became so frequent the golfers had no time to properly line up their shots before continuing on the other side of the runway, So they stopped playing and forlorn, abandoned bunkers lie unused beside the runway while another course is prepared 30 miles away. "If, God forbid, we lose the fight to control the oil, we will all move someplace else," pledges the fighting •minister, Clement Robb. Photos by Associated Press Residents of chilly Sullom Voe Sound fear they may lose their privacy, and possibly their homes, to the rush of investors who may pursue the discovery of oil *• V A ' &•

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