THE operators of Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorran could be prosecuted as a joint investigation begins over flaring at the site.
Both ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Ltd are to be investigated by SEPA and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The move made on Friday last week follows the serving of final warning letters to both companies in April, after “preventable and unacceptable” unplanned flaring during June last year.
The letters reveal that maintenance failures at the plant in June led to a breach of their operating conditions, adding that enforcement could lead to referring the operators to the procurator fiscal for prosecution.
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Alex Rowley will now lead a debate on flaring at Mossmorran in Holyrood today (Thursday).
Terry A’Hearn, SEPA chief executive, said: “We were clear that unplanned flaring in June 2017 was preventable and unacceptable and we issued final warnings to both companies in that regard.
“Despite that, communities have endured further unplanned flaring in October, March and again in May.
“We’ve listened carefully to community calls for a root and branch review and today’s announcement of a joint investigation by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Health & Safety Executive will examine issues at both sites.
“But more than that, in April we promised a review of operating permits. Operating permit variations will be served on ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK in the next week. These permits are legal documents which set out what each operator must do under law.
“It’s right that people want to know more about October, March and May flaring incidents.
“That said, people want action not words which is why I’ve come personally to explain why these incidents remain under investigation and why we need to avoid prejudice to future enforcement action.
“We’re listening to the community and it’s important the companies do too.”
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said: “We are committed to being a valued member of the local community and were pleased to participate in today’s community meeting. We are engaging positively with community representatives, other local bodies and the regulators to address any concerns about our operations.
“We comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and fully recognise the importance of regulating the operation of a plant of the scale and complexity of Fife Ethylene Plant in order to minimise the impact on the surrounding communities and the wider environment.
“Our operations are governed by our permit from SEPA and we have a long-standing record of good compliance with our operating permit.
“We will be working with SEPA, the HSE and local interests to ensure our operating scope is clearly defined and understood.”
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Mark Ruskell said there were “serious questions” to be answered into flaring at Mossmorran.
He commented: “Standards have moved on a great deal since the plant opened in 1985 and the regulation and enforcement needs to constantly develop too.
“Although the plant operators have improved their communication and been open about the technical causes of the recent flaring, there remain serious questions about why these incidents occurred in the first place.
“There are ongoing concerns about the maintenance and safety of this ageing plant, and if it’s shown that the repeated flaring is down to poor maintenance, there needs to be legal consequences.”
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