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FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon was challenged in Scottish Parliament today (Thursday) on recent flaring and concerns surrounding Mossmorran.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions (FMQ’s) this afternoon, Ms Sturgeon stated that Scottish Government ministers are in close contact with regulators after flaring at the Fife Ethylene Plant.
Plant bosses ExxonMobil issued a public apology after “fluctuations” with their elevated flare on Thursday evening last week.
The plant is in the middle of a re-start after it was shut down in August when two out of three boilers failed.
The flames from the plant were visible from as far away as Dundee and Edinburgh.
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, the Ms Sturgeon stated: “Well, can I thank Annabelle Ewing for raising what is an extremely important matter for her constituents, and ministers are in absolutely no doubt about the very understandable concerns of the local community, as evidenced by the number of complaints that SEPA has received regarding recent incidents.
“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 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.”
Following FMQ’s, Ms Ewing said: “It seems that every day brings a new concern about the operation of this plant and I was pleased to hear the concerns of the local community being acknowledged and recognised by the First Minister.
“I welcome the fact that air quality standards do not appear to have been breached and, whilst I appreciate that ministers cannot interfere with the independent nature of the regulators, I will certainly be continuing to keep in close contact with the Environment Secretary, SEPA and HSE on the matter.”
Around 100 workers staged an unofficial walkabout at the plant on Wednesday.
It’s been reported that the walkout was restricted to employees of Bilfinger, a German company that specialises in civil and industrial construction and engineering services.
Unite the Union have confirmed that those striking have now returned to work.
Unite Regional Industrial Officer, Bob MacGregor, 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 today 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.
“Measures will now be put in place to ensure there is more effective and robust communications on site including on matters relating to health and safety to make sure this situation doesn’t arise again.”
Mark Ruskell, Mid Scotland and Fife MSP for the Scottish Greens, said: “The Mossmorran workers are absolutely right to take a stand.
“This comes on a day when SEPA, which monitors the risk of pollution or environmental damage, has rated the site ‘poor’.
“Mossmorran is an industrial relic and the frontline of our climate emergency challenge.
“Not only has the site been causing misery for the local community with unplanned flaring, now we hear staff are concerned about safety.”
A GMB Scotland spokesperson said: “Relations between the workforce and management have been deteriorating for some time.
“Workers have continuously raised their concerns about conditions and safety on-site but have frankly been ignored.
“You can’t operate a major gas terminal this way and it shouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of Exxon and their sub-contractors to ensure workers feel safe and valued.”
Mossmorran Action Group (MAG) have organised a meeting at Lochgelly Town Hall for tomorrow night (Friday), from 7-9pm.
ExxonMobil will not be in attendance, and a spokesperson told the Press: “We are actively undertaking a programme of public meetings with our local communities, coordinated through their elected community councils.
“These conversations allow us to hear a range of views, share facts and answer questions, as well as enabling direct discussion between the public and ExxonMobil senior managers on the issues that matter for that town or village.
“Each meeting has been well attended and constructive.
“In contrast, 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, of which the most vocal individuals live more than 30 miles from the plant.
“As such, we will not be represented at the meeting called by the MAG leadership for Friday.”
After her response in FMQ’s today, MAG have now sent an invitation to the First Minister to send a Scottish Government representative after two initial invites were turned down; Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham and Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse are both unable to attend.
Representatives from SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency), NHS Fife and Fife Council are all set to be present at the meeting.