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IT’S all systems go again at Mossmorran as the Fife Ethylene Plant returned to normal production at the end of last week.
Bosses ExxonMobil made the announcement on Friday afternoon after a six-month shut down.
Jacob McAlister, plant manager, stated: “Most importantly, this re-start was executed safely at each and every stage.
“In re-starting equipment after an extended period, we took the time required to diligently test and re-test processes and safety procedures.
“While I am sure we would all have liked to have returned to production more quickly, we will never compromise the safety of our staff or the public.
“We also took a series of actions to significantly reduce the rate of the required elevated flaring, consistent with our commitment to the needs of local communities.
“We will implement any learnings from every part of the re-start process so that we continually improve, and further reduce elevated flaring in the future.”
Mr McAlister could not rule out the need to use the flare in the future, but he commented that updates on future developments, such as the £140 million investment programme, would be provided.
The plant had initially been de-activated on August 12 for a few weeks to carry out repairs after failure with two of its three boilers.
That period had to be extended significantly as further work to “improve reliability” was conducted.
News of the return to production came on the same day that Mossmorran Action Group (MAG) hosted a Lochgelly Town Hall meeting.
ExxonMobil turned down the invitation, with a spokesperson stating: “Previous events hosted by MAG suggest that they do not offer a proper opportunity for reasoned and factual discussion, and are driven by the narrow activist agenda of the MAG leadership.”
The plant’s full re-start also came a day after concerns over flaring at Mossmorran were raised to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scottish Parliament.
ExxonMobil apologised to local communities and residents affected by the most recent case of flaring, which took place on Thursday, February 13, which had been described by MAG as “apocalyptic”.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions (FMQ’s) on Thursday last week, Ms Sturgeon stated that Scottish Government Ministers are in close contact with regulators after flaring at the Fife Ethylene Plant.
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Annabelle Ewing asked Ms Sturgeon what assurances she could give to local residents after the latest incident.
Ms Ewing said: “What assurances can the First Minister give to my constituents, who remain very anxious about safety and about health and environmental impact?”
In response, Ms Sturgeon stated that, “Ministers are in absolutely no doubt about the very understandable concerns of the local community,” but highlighted that the plant had not breached any UK air quality standards.
She commented: “With regard to safety, the complex falls under the control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations. These are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and we have been assured that both regulators continue to monitor the situation very closely.
“As things stand, now, all of SEPA’s published data suggest no breach of UK air quality standards.
“The Scottish Government is staying in very close contact with the regulators, but I hope that members will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for Ministers to interfere in independent regulatory decisions; however, I absolutely recognise the seriousness of this issue and I am sure the Environment Secretary (Roseanna Cunningham) will be happy to keep Annabelle Ewing – and others who have an interest – updated.”
Prior to Thursday’s FMQ’s and Friday’s re-start, around 100 workers staged an unofficial walkout at the plant on Wednesday.
It was reported that it was restricted to employees of Bilfinger, a German company that specialises in civil and industrial construction and engineering services.
Unite the Union confirmed on Thursday that those striking had returned to work.
Bob MacGregor, Unite Regional Industrial Officer, said: “The situation at Mossmorran spontaneously occurred between some contractors and their workers resulting in work on site being suspended.
“Unite has been involved in meetings with the contractors and the workforce in order to bring a resolution to the satisfaction of the workforce.
“We are pleased to say that the workers have received the assurances they need in order to return back to work.”