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THURSDAY night’s hours of intense flaring at the Fife Ethylene Plant came about through a malfunction.
Early indications that the near four hours of flaring was a result of a problem with one of the process units and reduced capacity of ground flares.
SEPA has said that it hears clearly the level of community anxiety caused by Thursday night’s flaring event, which was seen from as far away as Dundee in the north to Edinburgh in the south and Lanarkshire in the west.
‘Unplanned flaring’ during ExxonMobil Chemical Limited’s Mossmorran restart is a reminder of why short and medium term solutions are critical to addressing ‘unacceptable flaring’ said the Scottish Environment Protection Agency on Friday. The agency understands the restart is likely to continue into the weekend and SEPA advised it will continue daily regulatory updates.
The agency, which had regulatory, noise and air monitoring capabilities deployed across the incident, said it heard clearly the level of community anxiety caused by Thursday night’s flaring event.
Initial data collected by the agency suggests no breach of UK Air Quality Standard.
SEPA said it was focused on the rapid conclusion of its ongoing regulatory investigation to an evidential standard and that to avoid any delay, Thursday night’s flaring would be reviewed following outcome of current investigation.
Chris Dailly, SEPA’s Head of Environmental Performance, said: “Thursday’s unplanned flaring during ExxonMobil Chemical’s restart at Mossmorran is a real reminder of why short and medium term solutions are critical to addressing the root causes of unacceptable flaring.
“While elevated flaring is a possibility during restart it was not expected last night. Once again we heard clearly and powerfully the very real concerns and frustrations of local communities.
“We think it’s important to be clear on the causes of the flaring in the final stage of this restart. We know people also want information on our monitoring. Since last year SEPA has had monitoring points around the site. Initial data suggests that whilst clearly there was elevated flaring, there was no breach of UK Air Quality Standard. We publish the data we collect on a weekly basis and now some 28 detailed reports are available.
“We appreciate communities want action, not words which is why we’re focused on rapid conclusion of regulatory investigation to an evidential standard and to the next steps in driving systemic change at Mossmorran. We’ll provide more information as quickly as possible and would encourage anyone impacted to report any concerns at www.sepa.org.uk/report so these are formally reviewed and considered by specialist officers.”
ExxonMobil tweeted on Friday: “Our flaring last night is not unusual during a complex re-start but we absolutely appreciate this may have caused concern. We addressed it within a few hours and are committed to safely completing re-start as soon as practicable, while avoiding elevated flaring wherever possible.”
Cowdenbeath MSP Annabelle Ewing has been pressing both Exxon Mobil and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) over the continued elevated flaring caused by the restart of the petrochemical plant at Mossmorran operated by Exxon Mobil.
Ms Ewing said: “Yesterday saw further elevated flaring from Mossmorran and throughout the evening, on Twitter, I sought some indication from SEPA as regards what action officers were taking to discharge their official duties.
“To Exxon, I made it very clear that my constituents need more transparency and I asked on how many instances of elevated flaring there had been during the restart and how long it had lasted. I also sought clarity as to whether more flaring was to be expected.
“No straight answers to these questions were forthcoming and I have taken the matter further by email today.
“It seems to me that there has been little or no effort to avoid prolonged elevated flaring. Quite the contrary. I demand to know what my constituents are to expect – are there to be any more nights of elevated flaring?
“I have also lodged a request for a Topical Question for Chamber Business in Parliament on Tuesday to raise the issue with Scottish Government Ministers.
“This has gone on and on and my constituents really do deserve better. This situation is entirely unacceptable and my constituents want to know what SEPA are doing to ensure that Exxon Mobil follow the rules that have been laid down.”
Fife MSP Alex Rowley has criticised the Scottish Government over its handling of flaring at the Mossmorran petrochemical plant near Cowdenbeath. This comes after an episode of huge flaring on Thursday night which a number of local residents called terrifying.
The Fife MSP has made repeated calls to the Scottish Government to order an independent inquiry into the workings and condition of the Mossmorran plant.
Mr Rowley said: “Back in 2017, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham turned down my request for an independent investigation into Mossmorran, on the dubious grounds that she “must remain distant” from questioning regulatory decisions made by SEPA, because Ministers might have to take a role in any subsequent appeals.
“This is clearly not acceptable, local people are living in fear due to the constant, increasing and deeply intrusive flaring from Mossmorran. People have told me how they can hear vibrations in their homes from miles away, how they can smell the smoke from the flare, and that the entire area is lit up as if under a spotlight.
“The Scottish Government cannot hide from this any longer, they must investigate what is going on, and put an end to the misery this is inflicting on many people’s lives that live in the vicinity of Mossmorran. An inquiry is long overdue, and it is about time the Scottish Government listened to the people of Fife when they are saying so clearly that this situation cannot continue.”
Mossmorran Action Group’s James Glen said: ““Exxon’s apology to communities for hours of massive and terrifying flaring on Thursday night is utterly meaningless. “Sorry” does not pacify terrified children or make up for sleepless nights or aggravated breathing conditions. Nor does it mean there will be no more extreme flaring as we saw last night.
“As ever, the multinational’s PR downplays the impact, claiming that the flaring was “not unusual” and that they are doing everything they can for a safe restart with minimal flaring. This is patently untrue because the technology exists to restrict flaring to enclosed ground flares”.