Local residents are ‘sick’ of flaring at the Mossmorran petrochemical production plant

COMMUNITIES ACROSS FIFE are protesting the disruption caused by the local Fife Ethylene Plant (FEP) which began “flaring” over the weekend due to a plant fault.

The restart process causes significant levels of noise and sound pollution in the surrounding area.  

After an “operating upset”, a giant flame could be seen for miles around the plant accompanied by loud noise and vibration which enraged locals have said can go on for days at a time. 

Located on the outskirts of Cowdenbeath, the controversial fractionation plant is regularly causing major disruption and health concerns for local residents despite assurances from the operator that environmental testing has shown the area to be safe. 

The plant manufactures a number of gasses through oil fractionation. 

Richard Innes, who lives in Lochgelly, has a house overlooking the plant: “When it’s really noisy, it sounds like a fighter jet or aeroplane flying by.”

“When it’s really noisy, it sounds like a fighter jet or aeroplane flying by.” Richard Innes, local resident

Innes, who has two children aged 11 and 15, told CommonSpace that until four or five years ago the plant had never caused disruption, but in recent years has hugely affected his young family. 

“The kids regularly comment about it, and they often have their sleep interrupted because of the noise,” he said.

A safety mechanism at the plant was triggered on Friday (23 March), which the operator explains re-routes on-site gas to an elevated flare where it burns into the atmosphere. 

Peter Millmore, another local resident, moved to the Cowdenbeath area recently from the Isle of Wight. Speaking to CommonSpace, Millmore said he would have avoided the area if he knew about the disruption before buying his house. 

Millmore, a retired deputy headteacher, said he was “horrified” by the stories about the plant from other residents. 

“It’s an irony not lost on me that anxious residents feel left in the dark when light pollution comes flooding into their homes.” Local MP, Lesley Laird

Other residents said “sulfurous” clouds were emitted from the flare, with some noticing they often developed a cough after flaring. 

Local MP Lesley Laird has taken up the residents’ plight and is organising meetings between local residents and other stakeholders. She said: “Communities are sick to the back teeth with flaring at Mossmorran and deserve to know why it is happening with such regularity.

“It’s an irony not lost on me that anxious residents feel left in the dark when light pollution comes flooding into their homes at night.”

In a bid to address concerns with flaring at Fife Ethylene Plant, the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP hosted a meeting in January, involving the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Fife Council, Shell, and ExxonMobil.

The meeting was chaired by Professor Wilson Sibbett of Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Independent Air Quality Monitoring Review Group, who is now considering extending the watchdog’s remit to assess the impact of noise and light pollution associated with flaring.

Laird, who heard some residents describing Mossmorran as “living next to Mordor,” said communities were being left with “more questions than answers and that situation could not be allowed to continue”. 

“I know that flaring can cause concern and inconvenience, but it is a vital safety system and we never flare without good reason.”  Sonia Bingham, plant manager for ExxonMobil Chemical 

The Scottish Labour MP told CommonSpace that a further meeting would take place on 20 April, involving Professor Sibbett, key stakeholders, community councils and all political parties.

She said: “I hope this next meeting will bring us another step forward to achieving much-needed wider community engagement with Mossmorran.

“The public deserves improved and more up-to-date information when flaring occurs.

“Reassurance is also needed regarding health concerns and, also importantly, whether any steps can be taken to minimise flaring in the future.”

Commenting on the disruption over the weekend, Sonia Bingham, plant manager for ExxonMobil Chemical said: “I would like to apologise to the local community for the unplanned flaring over the past few days.

“My operations team at FEP has worked tirelessly over the weekend to restore normal operations to the plant and kept SEPA fully informed throughout the event.

“I know that flaring can cause concern and inconvenience, but it is a vital safety system and we never flare without good reason. We have made every effort to minimise any impact on the local community, and while I recognise that it can be frustrating to local residents, I am grateful to them for their patience and understanding.”

Picture courtesy of Alex Noel 

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