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EXXONMOBIL have this week stressed that the Fife Fife Ethylene Plant, which has come under fire from local politicians, operates to the best safety and enviro standards.
Cowdenbeath MSP Annabelle Ewing, aired her concern at the planned flaring this week in connection with repair work at the Mossmorran plant while Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP, Lesley Laird feels that there is still work required to get the right information across to the nearby communities.
The MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, who set up the Mossmorran Working Group to liaise with FEP, said: “This latest episode shows is there is much work still to be done in terms of communication and trust and confidence at a number of levels.
“The plant’s rushed community statement on Sunday is out of kilter with the normal notification process for shutdowns, and the updated flaring statement suggested this maintenance was initially rushed and not thought through in terms of the best way to mitigate its impact on the community.
“Communication around two other recent flarings still showed gaps in terms of how the company gets it message out in a timely way.”
Ms Laird added: “It also brings into question the current operation of the plant’s permit, and whether or not it is fit-for-purpose given the various events we have seen over the last two years.
“While SEPA has issued a final written warning, there has been at least three events since and communities are quite rightly asking what the consequences are of permit non-compliance now. While acknowledging that SEPA has upped its game in terms of community engagement the real issue is: does SEPA have the appetite to take further action in the face of ongoing impact on the community?
“At the working group on Friday, progress was certainly made in identifying future Best Available Techniques (BAT) investment which will mitigate flaring, and associated light, vibration and noise.
“But that’s down the road and the situation here and now requires decisive action, openness and transparency. Planned shutdown schedules for Exxon and Shell should be made available now and I have called on Fife Council to review and re-constitute the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Liaison Committee, including the appointment of an independent chair.
“The Working Group was not satisfied with the Cabinet Minister’s refusal to conduct an independent review of Mossmorran until SEPA’s investigation is concluded. There is no reason, given the ongoing issues, that this could not be done in parallel with any SEPA investigation. It’s for all government agencies to step up and support communities affected by Mossmorran.”
Stuart Neill, external affairs manager at Fife Ethylene Plant (FEP), said: “The current planned flaring is in full compliance with the SEPA regulatory framework under which we operate. Within that framework, planned flaring is permitted as an essential element of maintenance to ensure the continued safe operation of the plant.
“We are committed to ongoing investment to ensure we always operate to the highest possible environmental and safety standards.
“Elements of that investment will be guided by the Best Available Techniques standard (BAT). In April we submitted to SEPA our proposals for a multi-million pound programme of actions that will further minimise frequency and public concerns around flaring. This proposal is actively being reviewed by SEPA.
“We do not, therefore, understand Annabelle Ewing’s statement on BAT and reject absolutely her claim that we are not adhering to our obligation.
“We cannot emphasise enough that we understand the concerns flaring may cause. However, it is unhelpful for statements to be made without first being equipped with the full facts because they can be misleading and can cause unnecessary concern in the community.
“FEP is one of the youngest plants of its kind in Europe and is strictly regulated while also undergoing constant maintenance and upgrades. The plant’s safety record stands for itself, with over 30 years’ operation without a significant incident and almost 24 years without a team member experiencing a lost time injury.”
He added: “Our process for advising of planned flaring has remained consistent. Following feedback from members of the local community, we have also endeavoured to be as transparent as possible which is why we issued the initial statement at the earliest opportunity. While our last such planned event was in 2016, we continue to follow the same communication protocol.
“Far from being ‘rushed’, we work fast to identify any risk, mitigate and plan for required action. We always optimise our work plans to reduction in flaring against our number one priority – safety. This is why we took the additional action that will further reduce flaring volumes. We believe this is the right and responsible thing to do, and so we are disappointed it is being viewed in a negative way.
“Regarding BAT, our commitment to a programme of actions was submitted to SEPA back in April, long before the Working Group Meeting on Friday. Indeed, ExxonMobil has been committed to delivery and funding for some time, and we stand ready to begin implementation following SEPAs review.
“We welcome Lesley’s calls for a strengthening of the Liaison Committee, and we too have raised this directly with Fife Council’s Co-leaders and Chief Executive. We believe this group has a vital role to play in ensuring the public has access to the facts.”