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Drones could be used to monitor Mossmorran by Scotland’s environment watchdog.
Sepa’s visits to sites it regulates including the Fife petrochemical plant have been curtailed by restrictions on non-essential travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief executive Terry A’Hearn revealed the aerial devices could be used to keep a watching brief and prove more effective than officers visiting in person.
He updated the Scottish Parliament’s environment, climate change and land reform committee on monitoring of Fife Ethylene Plant, run by ExxonMobil Chemical, and Shell’s Fife NGL Plant, amid tight controls on officers attending.
Although voicing caution over the approach, he said intelligence from drones could be gathered.
He said: “We actually think… there are some more effective ways even than site visits that we can use that might give us quite significant new evidence that can really improve our ability to ensure compliance and enforcement.”
Committee member Green MSP Mark Ruskell welcomed exploration of alternative methods but added: “The value of boots on the ground mustn’t be forgotten.
“Remote monitoring has its place but some issues need to be experienced in the same way that those living in afflicted communities around the plant experience them.”
Mr A’Hearn said reduced site visits during lockdown had not been a big barrier so far but monitoring could become more difficult over the longer term.
He said: “Sometimes 100% of what we need to do to get compliance we can do over the phone at the moment.
“Sometimes the 10% of the activity that could be done at the site might make a big difference.
“It’s the mix of things and again trying to use other mechanisms such as – once more I’ll always be cautious about using this – using drones intelligence.”