SEPA has issued final warning letters to the operators of Mossmorran over flaring at the plant with TWO further investigations still to be completed.
The sanction relates to unscheduled flaring which happened last June, sparking a number of complaints from local residents.
But the plant flared again in October and, more recently, in March, and both are still the subject of investigations by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
A local campaign group has now called for an independent investigation backed by Scottish Government action.
Unscheduled flaring at Mossmosrran has been a hugely contentious issue for many years, and SEPA’s report highlights the impact it has had on communities.
The agency’s ten-month investigation into the June 2017 flaring concluded it was due to ‘‘a series of maintenance failures’’ following the breakdown of a condensate pump.
It said residents were’’ subject to considerable disturbance in their homes from noise, vibration and black smoke’’ over the seven-day period last summer, resulting in 74 complaints.
Terry A’Hearn, SEPA’s chief executive, met senior ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Limited executives directly on site and said it was clear that “environmental compliance is non-negotiable.”
He said: ‘‘The impact of unplanned flaring from Mossmorran last year was both preventable and unacceptable.
‘‘ We’re disappointed that both ExxonMobil Chemical and Shell UK caused an environmental impact on local communities which is why we’ve issued formal final warning letters, have commissioned a full review of environmental permits to operate and an enhanced programme of air quality monitoring.
‘‘Compliance with Scotland’s environmental rules is simply non-negotiable. ‘
He added: “It’s clear that further actions are required by ExxonMobil Chemical and Shell UK to ensure the frequency and impact of flaring is reduced, but we’re encouraged by how both companies have responded, committing to respond positively to a strengthening of environmental controls.’’
The final warning letters mark the formal closure of the investigation into the June 2017 incidents, but SEPA has still to consider further unscheduled flaring last October and again in March.
The actions were welcomed by Mossmorran Action Group (MAG), but it wants an independent inquiry with the Scottish Government on board.
James Glen, chairman, said the report showed communities ‘‘were right to be fearful and angry about the irresponsible behaviour of the operators.’’
He added: ‘‘SEPA is clear the flaring was down to a lack of maintenance by the operators which must raise questions about the overall safety of the plant.
‘‘The operators plainly put profit before safety and before the well-being of neighbouring communities.’’
Mr Glen also said SEPA lacked the power and the resource to deal with the environmental impact of the plant which has operated for 33 years.
‘‘We want to see an independent investigation backed up by Scottish Government action to ensure that communities receive proper protection,’’ he said.
Exxon again apologised for the unscheduled flaring which it recognised ‘‘ caused particular concern and inconvenience..’’
It accepted the report’s findings and said it had ‘‘worked thoroughly’’ to address the issues identified in tandem with its own in-house investigations.
The company’s statement said: ‘‘Following the events in June last year, we completed our own detailed investigation into the flaring and its impact on the community, and have already made a series of improvements to our maintenance processes, and to our flaring-related communications with the local community. We are also committed to work with SEPA on an enhanced programme of air quality monitoring.’’
It stressed again that flaring was safe and is used widely in petrochemical plants and refineries worldwide.
‘‘Flares are designed to process hydrocarbons safely when production is interrupted. While the flare is a vital safety system for the plant, it is otherwise of no benefit to anyone including our operations because it impacts on production,’’ it stated.
‘‘We continue to invest in projects utilising the latest technologies and enhancements for the long-term future of the plant.
Our team at FEP will continue to work with SEPA, other relevant agencies and the local community to monitor and minimise the impact of flaring.’’