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More than 700 angry residents complained about “apocalyptic” flaring at a Fife petrochemical plant as they endured three nights of noise, light and vibrations.
Environment watchdog Sepa said it had received 740 complaints about the latest incident at Mossmorran, which was finally brought to an end on Tuesday afternoon.
At its height, flames could be seen as far as Edinburgh, Alloa and across Fife.
— Tom Duffin Photographer (weePhotos) (@weePhotosEdin) October 5, 2020
Residents described the deep rumblings as as being like an earthquake or a low-flying aeroplane and one woman said she had been on the verge of fleeing her home in terror.
Operator ExxonMobil blamed the flare on a faulty part in a compressor and said it had now been replaced.
Plant manager Jacob McAlister has apologised for the frustrations suffered by neighbouring communities and said staff would work to reduce future occurrences.
He said Saturday night’s torrential rain had not contributed to the flaring, which is a safety mechanism used during a process upset.
Sepa has launched an investigation and said it remained frustrated by the frequency of incidents and the lack of information coming from ExxonMobil.
It has called on the company to recognise the depth of the community’s anger.
The probe will look at whether there has been a breach of the site’s permit conditions and what the next steps should be in line with enforcement policy.
It has already been ascertained that air quality standards were not breached during the past three days but Sepa said the noise impact on communities was being heard clearly.
ExxonMobil is also carrying out its own investigation.
At one point, flare was burning ethane at a rate of 100 tonnes per hour, which later reduced to 35 tonnes per hour.
Chris Dailly, Sepa’s head of environmental performance, said: “Whilst we are pleased the site has now returned to normal operations and is no longer flaring, we remain frustrated by the frequency of flaring and the flow of information from the operator.
“We’ve also clearly heard the impact flaring continues to have on local communities through over 740 reports to us since Sunday.
“Whilst we await a full, detailed report from the operator on the cause of the latest flaring incident, the operator has indicated a compressor fault.”
He added: “What we need now is for ExxonMobil to step up and recognise the depth of community anger and make real progress in making flaring the exception rather than the routine – and we will employ all available measures to ensure they do so.”
SNP MP Neale Hanvey has asked for a meeting with plant managers and added: “We need answers from Exxon about why people in my constituency are again having to face sleepless nights with the appalling noise, light and vibrations coming out of Mossmorran.
“I’ve tried to be as fair and balanced as possible but patience is understandably wearing thin.
“I share the frustrations of the 740 people who submitted complaints to Sepa and the many more who are sick of unplanned flaring at the site.”
‘We need to get out of here’: Terrified resident almost fled home as Mossmorran flaring shook house
Labour MSP Alex Rowley has written to environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham asking her to intervene.
“People are living in these communities with constant fear of Mossmorran and that has to be addressed now,” he said.
“If it is not safe, and it keeps breaking as it does, it must close.”
Mr McAlister said Exxon understood residents’ frustrations.
“Our teams identified and replaced the part, and then conducted comprehensive checks to ensure a safe and reliable re-start of the machine,” he said.
“We will finalise our own investigation into the root cause but can confirm that, contrary to misinformation, weather was not a contributing factor.
“We absolutely understand and apologise for the frustration that the use of our flare can cause.
“We will, therefore, continue to work to reduce future occurrences.”
Work on a £140 million investment to reduce the number of incidents at the plant, due to start this year, has been delayed until April due to the effects of coronavirus.