Guest Photographer: John Smyth aka North Atlantic Skyline

Today’s Guest Photographer is John Smyth aka North Atlantic Skyline. Please visit his site and consider subscribing


(caption: Oil tanker leaves Galway Harbour at dawn this February))

There was a time when most of the trade through Galway Harbour was either fish, cattle or sheep, which meant you could just find the harbour by following your nose. Nowadays, there are hardly any exports, but plenty of imports, nearly all of which would make the average eco-warrior weep. All of the coal for the county is landed (and stored) on the Docks, steel for the construction industry and thousands of gallons of bitumen to tar roads [that's what carried about in those Cold Chon tankers]. But mainly it is oil, and lots of it – about 35 million litres can be stored at any time at the harbour. Every other day, an oil tanker is guided in Galway Harbour to keep the county’s insatiable appetite for oil sated.

So what would happen if the flow of oil was interrupted ? We’d probably muddle along just fine for a few days, but what about a few weeks. Well, we’d be banjaxed. Or rather, we would be, if it wasn’t for the National Oil Reserve Agency or NORA.

NORA is the agency charged with ensuring that Ireland keeps a strategic reserve of oil at all times. Right now, the country has 105 days of oil in reserve. Strictly speaking, the reserves are like a set of IOUs that the state will call in when there is a crisis – NORA doesn’t have a set of storage tanks to call its own. Just under 40% of the reserve is abroad – oil that other countries promise to sell us in case of emergency ( let’s hope they don’t have an emergency at the same time, eh?). The rest is stored by Ireland’s only refinery (Whitegate in Cork), by commercial oil importers or by very large consumers of oil, such as the ESB. Again, the reserve is basically a percentage of the oil that NORA can call upon.

NORA’s brief is based on Ireland’s commitments to the International Energy Agency, namely to maintain emergency oil reserves equivalent to at least 90 days of net oil imports, and to have ready a programme of oil demand restraint measures equal to 7 % and 10% of national oil consumption. Ah yes – restraint. Not something that we are too good at here in Ireland. Mind you, NORA doesn’t control the price of oil during a crisis, so restraint may well be self-imposed.

Think you could run NORA ? Well, they are advertising for a new boss right now, so why not apply (an ability to siphon diesel out of a tank would be an advantage). The lads in charge of the water supply in Galway need not apply.

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