In July there was a new peat landslide on the Viking Energy Wind Farm construction site along a section of cable trench at the Mid Kame Ridge near Sandwater. Shetlanders are not surprised and have warned of this risk in the past. Just last year when there was a slippage on the construction site, warnings to expect more landslides were again raised. Unfortunately, it seems Viking Energy rather made light of it.
Reasons for lack of trust in Viking Energy mount. I am seriously concerned that the company and its affiliates do not take appropriate heed of potential risks nor follow good practice in the construction of the wind farm, whether it is around construction techniques or health and safety.
Local residents have been reporting issues of concern since construction started, including excessive dust caused by their vehicles, contamination of pristine lochs and burns, noise from construction and explosives, and excessive hours for the drivers of their works buses, from 80 to 100 hours per week. Very tragically there was a fatal accident on the site earlier this year.
Cause for my most recent concern is the way Viking Energy has downplayed the peat landslide that occurred on 4 July 2022. I find it scandalous, and downright irresponsible, that Viking Energy didn’t immediately admit to it, and that no official bodies, agencies or organisations, who are responsible for monitoring the construction seemed to investigate until a video started to attract public attention on social media. The video was posted on the Stop Viking Energy Facebook page some days after the landslide occurred.
Once local press picked up the story, an unnamed spokesperson for the company stated, “The area has been reinstated with the peat pulled back into position and retaining rock bunds added ensuring the area is safe. . . . Geotechnical investigations have been carried out to determine the cause of the movement and any additional measures for future prevention will depend on their findings.” Sadly, a request for information about the extent of the landslide and its distance to any turbine bases remains unanswered
I am very alarmed by the claim that Viking Energy has successfully remediated the damage because it contrasts with expert opinion. In The Landslide Blog, Dave Petley writes about landslide events that occur worldwide including latest research. In his Blog article, ‘New peat landslides in Shetland (including a very interesting landslide video)’ he states that experience shows that remediation of the site of peat landslides is very difficult, reminding us that the scar from the peat landslide on Shetland's Kames Ridge in 2015 remains visible.
While I am horrified that the peat landslide has occurred, I am pleased that it has attracted attention beyond Shetland, triggered particularly by the video footage, for apparently capturing such an event is unusual.
Not surprisingly, and further fuel for my lack of trust in Viking Energy, we have learned that the peat slide could have been avoided if the construction team had followed their own rules and instructions for floating roads.
According to Aaron Priest, Viking Energy stakeholder manager, in an article published by Shetland News,because of the risk for slippage, it should have been excavated and founded like the adjacent wind farm track, but the construction team did not follow advice and built it ‘floating’. Consequently, the aggregate used in the cable trench was too heavy and a 15 x 8 metres section of the trench under construction slipped down the hill 72 metres.
In his blog article Dave Petley explains that Shetland is covered with large amounts of blanket bog, and in such settings exceptional rainfall and/or disturbance of the peat by human activity can trigger peat landslides, as in Scalloway in 2012 and previously in 2003 when there were multiple landslides. Last month there was also one further south of the Viking Energy development along Shetland’s main north/south road although it doesn't appear to have anything to do with Viking Energy construction work.
It is fortunate that there has been no damage to property or people as a result of this most recent landslide. Frank Hay, Chair of Sustainable Shetland, echoed many Shetlanders’ fears over risk of landslides, stating that it is particularly worrying that this landslide happened in unexceptional weather when there hadn’t been heavy rainfall since the track was constructed. Many with vast local knowledge agree with Hay when he states, “The floating roads that Viking have employed in various places may well float more than was intended if the evidence is anything to go by. Just how suitable these tracks are going to be for the really heavy wind turbine components is something that should be very carefully assessed.”
We must ask why Viking Energy seems to have taken the risk of landslide so lightly when Shetland has significant history of peat landslides. The scars of the 2015 landslide remain somewhat poignantly within daily sight of their construction work, and Shetlanders have warned of this risk. They are not alone, for specialists in the field also share this view.
Very recently Petley published an article in Ground Engineering warning of the risk of peat landslides in relation to wind farm development. He wrote, “Onshore wind development can pose a real threat to peatlands. If poor ground engineering practices are deployed, large-scale failures can occur, causing massive peat degradation and inflicting a high environmental cost downstream. The development of new wind farms in peatland areas will pose substantial ground engineering challenges.”
While I have long been sceptical about the information put forward by Viking Energy in relation to the wind farm development, I no longer have any trust in their work, their judgment and the information they publish. How can we trust the information and viewpoints put forward by Viking Energy and its sister companies involved in the wind farm construction?
Marter, Hans J. “Viking Energy Sceptics Raise Concern over Peat Slides.” Shetland News, 19 Apr. 2021, https://www.shetnews.co.uk/2021/04/19/viking-energy-sceptics-raise-concern-over-peat-slides/
Marter, Hans J. “Viking Landslide Damage Reinstated as Wind Farm Opponents Voice Concern.” Shetland News, 14 July 2022, https://www.shetnews.co.uk/2022/07/14/viking-landslide-damage-reinstated-as-wind-farm-opponents-voice-concern/
Marter, Hans J. “Viking Landslip Could Have Been Avoided, SSE Renewables Confirms.” Shetland News, 20 July 2022, https://www.shetnews.co.uk/2022/07/20/viking-landslip-could-have-been-avoided-sse-renewables-confirms/?fbclid=IwAR1CPEVmbBogvBd7PKxzRgoW7FnGyCa26hfbAkpUXTi3xwQhJUe-BQVz5RM
Petley, Dave. “New Peat Landslides in Shetland (Including a Very Interesting Landslide Video).” The Landslide Blog, Blogosphere, American Geographical Union, 25 July 2022, https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2022/07/25/shetland-1/
Petley, Dave. “Onshore Wind Farms Come with Geotechnical Risk.” Ground Engineering (GE), 23 June 2022, https://www.geplus.co.uk/opinion/onshore-wind-farms-come-with-geotechnical-risk-23-06-2022/