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Further flaring at the Mossmorran chemical plant in Fife is extremely disappointing, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister was speaking after plant owners Exxon Mobil raised the alarm about an incident on Tuesday.
That came just weeks after similar incidents at the site, with environmental regulators at Sepa having launched a formal investigation into unplanned flaring there last April following hundreds of complaints from residents.
Ms Sturgeon was challenged on the “misery” the flaring causes locals during First Minister’s Questions, with Greens demanding ministers meet affected residents and stage an inquiry into the future of the plant.
Green parliamentary co-leader Alison Johnstone branded the plant a “fossil fuel relic”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I understand and indeed share the concern of local people.
“To put it mildly it is extremely disappointing there was a further flaring incident on Tuesday, so soon after the restart of the plant.”
But Ms Sturgeon – who described the flaring as a “really serious situation” – said the Government must be careful not to prejudice the investigations already under way.
She 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.
“It is not in any way that ministers are disinterested in this, but we want Sepa to be able to do its job and to be able to do its job properly.”
But Ms Johnstone told her: “Expressing disappointment doesn’t help people in this area sleep at night, it doesn’t do justice to the seriousness of the situation.
“Sepa have issued warning after warning, they issued a final warning as long ago as April 2018, but the situation on the ground hasn’t changed.
“What will you do to end the misery this plant is causing?”
Ms Sturgeon stressed: “I would not be doing any good to local residents if we in any way acted in a prejudicial manner to the ongoing investigations, regulatory and/or criminal that are under way there.
“My interest is in making sure this issue is addressed, that it is addressed properly and safely and is addressed for the long term.
“I am extremely concerned about the situation and I understand the concerns of local residents.
“It is important that Sepa continues to take the action it thinks is necessary, and it is important the operator takes all necessary steps to reduce the impact on residents and address the concerns.”