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COWDENBEATH councillor Darren Watt, has ‘blasted’ ExxonMobil following their latest episode of unplanned elevated flaring last Tuesday and is demanding Scottish Government Ministers ‘stop hiding behind SEPA’ and meet with local communities to hear their thoughts and experiences first-hand.
Councillor Watt said: “There was a lot of confusion early last Tuesday afternoon as ExxonMobil’s neighbours, Shell, had given advanced notice we may experience some low level flaring at their NGL plant, as they carried out some tests, however, shortly after these had successfully concluded, ExxonMobil were once again flaring for no rhyme or reason.”
Plant Manager at ExxonMobil, Jacob McAlister, later released a community statement explaining they had unfortunately experienced a trip on one of their major compressors and re-iterated that the use of the flare is completely safe. Mr McAlister also apologised for any inconvenience to local communities.
Councillor Watt said: “While I fully appreciate their level of communication has improved compared with three years ago, it is still woefully inadequate and does not offer local residents any meaningful insight or assurances.
“The very fact they have apologised for any inconvenience shows their complete disconnect and lack of understanding. Unplanned elevated flaring is not inconvenient.
“It may be to the plant operators but to the surrounding communities, it can be alarming, worrying, and distressing. When we see the flame spontaneously burst out of the stack, we aren’t reassured that this is part of a safe preventative process, we are instead extremely concerned that once again something has gone seriously wrong and they are forced to flare.”
Councillor Watt also expressed his dismay as Scottish Government Ministers, including the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, continued to refuse to visit the plant’s surrounding communities inferring their involvement could jeopardise proceedings.
At last week’s First Ministers’ Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘SEPA, which is an independent regulatory body, is now focused on concluding an ongoing criminal investigation to an evidential standard and are continuing to scrutinise different actions.
“There are ongoing regulatory investigations. So, the combination of these things mean it is incumbent on Ministers to be very careful that we do not act in a way that could undermine that in any way, shape or form or prejudice it in anyway.’
Added Councillor Watt: “I have stated from day one that if we are to see significant changes and improvements at Mossmorran, we need the collective will and efforts of politicians, agencies and authorities but nearly three years after the major flaring incident in June 2017, it could be argued we are no further forward.
“SEPA continue to express their disappointment but with no significant consequences or repercussions despite issuing ExxonMobil with a final warning nearly two years ago.
“The Scottish Government and the relevant Ministers appear dismissive of the issues residents consistently face and continue to reject the idea of an independent impact study and inquiry into Mossmorran. I urge them to stop making feeble excuses and meet with local politicians, community groups, residents and members of Mossmorran Action Group at the earliest opportunities so they can fully comprehend the fears, anxieties and concerns we experience.”
The councillor concluded: “And as for ExxonMobil, I gave them the benefit of doubt when they promised to make a number of improvements and I tried to work alongside their external affairs manager, but like Mossmorran Action Group and concerned residents, I have also been patronised and treated with utter contempt.
“We all understand the reasons behind flaring, and we all appreciate the economic benefits and employment opportunities they provide locally and nationally but that does not mean they have carte blanche and can run roughshod throughout the area. Enough is enough and it’s time for a change.”
Meanwhile Scottish Greens called for an urgent inquiry into the future of the plant at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, and since then around 2,000 people have used an online portal set up by the party to ‘object to inaction by the Scottish Government’.
The Greens say that Mossmorran is part of a fossil fuel complex that was issued a ‘final warning’ by regulator SEPA nearly two years ago.
Commenting, Scottish Greens environment spokesperson, Mark Ruskell, said: “I’m not surprised so many people have objected to Mossmorran. The unplanned flaring at this fossil fuel relic has made life a misery for local residents.
“NHS Fife has also confirmed that the ongoing mismanagement of the plant has seriously impacted on their health and wellbeing.
“SEPA expressing ‘disappointment’ is not enough. The Scottish Government cannot continue to ignore those who are suffering as a result of this inaction. Roseanna Cunningham must finally heed the call for an urgent independent inquiry into the future of Exxonmobil in Mossmorran and immediate action to protect these local communities.”
Plant boss Jacob McAlister said of the flaring: “We have, unfortunately, experienced a trip on one of our major compressors.
“Our team undertook the necessary checks to begin a safe re-start. In order to keep the rest of the plant running and reduce total duration of flaring, we needed to manage this process through our elevated flare. We were also working with our neighbours Shell to maximise ground flare capacity.
“The use of the flare was completely safe, and we endeavoured to keep our communities informed of progress. We apologise for any inconvenience to our local communities.”