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THE planned £140m refurbishment of the Fife Ethylene Plant looks certain to be delayed by the coronavirus crisis.
The Scottish Greens MSP, Mark Ruskell, on Monday claimed that the delays would also involve the fitting of the new noise reducing flare tip at the ExxonMobil plant, until this time next year.
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said though: “We remain committed to the delivery of the £140m additional investment programme, which we announced last year. However, as a direct result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the resourcing and delivery of materials and equipment, as well as the movement of personnel, have been significantly impacted.
“This means that this programme of work must now extend into 2021.While it is disappointing that we cannot complete the programme over the original planned schedule, our priority is the health and safety of all involved and that the recent challenging times have significantly impacted schedules for many projects all over the world. We will work towards completing this programme as soon as it is practical to do so”.
The spokesperson added: “Our plant continues to operate safely and to the highest regulatory standards, and existing annual maintenance activities will continue to maintain those safe operations during this timeframe.
“Mr Ruskell continues to speak on areas that he would appear not to fully understand and has not sought clarification of the facts.’’
On Mossmorran closure calls made by campaigners at the weekend (see page 15), it was stated: “Our company alone has provided stable, skilled manufacturing roles to Fife for over 35 years, with some 250 dedicated team members and their families relying on us for their livelihoods.
“In addition, over 120 companies in the supply chain provide our site with goods and services, and we estimate that we contribute tens of millions of pounds annually to the local economy.
“Looking more broadly, our plant supports the production of key products that are consistent with low-carbon initiatives e.g. lightweight plastics for electric vehicles and charging stations.
“From those calling for the closure of Mossmorran, we have yet to see any meaningful proposal to replace the loss to the hundreds of people and their families who rely on the facility, or the major economic contribution made to Fife and Scotland.”
Mr Ruskell said on Monday that communities in the Cowdenbeath-Lochgelly area and nearby have suffered noise, light and air pollution for several years during flaring episodes, which burns excess gas as a safety measure and ‘can be seen right across Eastern Scotland’. He added that the operator has been given several warnings about the episodes by the regulator SEPA, who referred one incident to the courts.
The Mid Scotland and Fife MSP said: “The delays to the investment programme at this plant because of coronavirus was unfortunate, but now we see the operator wants local communities to endure another eight months of pollution from this fossil fuel relic.
“SEPA are already seeking prosecution at the Crown Office, so you would have thought ExxonMobil would have at least been motivated by that to make vital improvements to its plant as quickly as possible. “It claims safety concerns during the pandemic have led to the delays, but what about the safety of those who endure sleepless nights during flaring episodes? SEPA must hold firm and not allow any more than a couple of months delay to the completion of the flare tip upgrade.
“The communities impacted in Fife need a safer, cleaner future with new jobs in alternative industries, not be endlessly strung along by those who want to maximise oil and gas.”
Mr Ruskell’s stance was backed by Mossmorran Action Group chair, James Glen: “Exxon is using Covid as an excuse to delay implementing essential noise mitigation because their only interest is in protecting their bottom line.
“Communities are being exposed to such extreme levels of noise that residents are left terrified, condemned to sleepless nights, with their homes subject to visible vibration.
“Exxon’s deplorable record of skimping on maintenance continues to be under major investigation by HSE.
“For too long regulators have allowed Exxon to get away with operations which harm their neighbours, and SEPA should now live up to its mantra that ‘environmental compliance is non-negotiable’.”