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An investigation has been launched after angry residents were again woken as extreme flaring at Fife’s Mossmorran plant lit up the night sky.
Householders said they were terrified after loud rumbling from the petrochemical complex, near Cowdenbeath, caused their homes to vibrate in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Many said they had been kept awake since the flaring started at 3.40am as torrential rain battered the region, with one woman describing it as sounding like a plane passing low over her house.
Operator ExxonMobil has apologised and blamed the disturbance on an isolated trip in a machine.
Engineers are on site trying to resolve the issue.
Our engineers remain onsite working to resolve the isolated technical issue with one of our machines. We have taken actions to significantly reduce the size of the flare, and will continue to do so. The flare is completely safe but we apologise, again, for any disturbance caused.
— exxonmobil_fep (@exxonmobil_fep) October 4, 2020
A probe by environment watchdog Sepa has confirmed there has been a community noise impact but no breach of air quality standards.
It will continue to investigate whether there has been a breach of permit conditions and if any enforcement action is necessary.
SEPA is responding to unplanned flaring from @exxonmobil_fep. SEPA officers have been deployed, air quality and noise monitoring continues to be in place. Read our full statement on the Mossmorran hub, https://t.co/3pqoq6e2ZQ. Report pollution online https://t.co/accJUx0uiS pic.twitter.com/Nyz7DJoJ2i
— Scottish Environment Protection Agency (@ScottishEPA) October 4, 2020
The Exxon plant has been the subject of numerous complaints over many years, with residents sick of the disruption caused by bouts of flaring and rumbling.
The last incident was in August, when the plant suffered a power cut as Storm Francis raged and many have questioned its ability to cope with Scotland’s changing weather.
Mossmorran Action Group chairman James Glen said: “This is the second time during a severe storm that Mossmorran has had to resort to emergency flaring.
“Last time it was caused by flooding in an electrical storm. What is it this time?
“Once again Exxon is hiding behind a ‘process upset’ and local communities are left with the terrifying experience of emergency flaring in an unrestricted time frame.
“If the plant can’t cope with Scottish weather, should it be operating at all?”
Conservative councillor Darren Watt said the situation was unacceptable and accused ExxonMobil of doing nothing to alleviate residents’ safety fears.
“Once again, residents throughout the area are subjected to horrendous noise and light pollution because of yet another major operational failure by ExxonMobil,” he said.
“Local communities aren’t asking for much.
“They just want ExxonMobil to be a more responsible and considerate neighbour but continue to be let down resulting in further erosion of trust.”
Flaring is a safety mechanism used during a process upset.
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.
Sunday’s flaring comes days after the future of the plant was discussed in the Scottish Parliament.
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said: “Following an isolated trip on one of our machines, our systems have safely diverted production via our elevated flare.
“Our team of Engineers are onsite and actively working to resolve the matter.
“We have also taken actions to reduce the size of the elevated flare, including working to increase capacity in the ground flares.
“We stress that the use of our flare is completely safe, but apologise for any disturbance caused by its operation.”
ExxonMobil has already been referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service over a previous flaring event during Easter 2019.
Chris Dailly, Sepa’s head of environmental performance, said: “Whilst we don’t know yet from the company the cause of the latest flaring or expected duration, we will provide further updates as soon as further information becomes available.”
The watchdog urged anyone with concerns to contact its online pollution hotline at sepa.org.uk/report