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Unscheduled flaring at the Mossmorran chemical plant in Fife is due to a compressor fault, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has said.
Sepa said that it received reports of flaring at the ExxonMobil plant shortly after 3.30am on Sunday.
The government agency said it is gathering information to determine if there has been a breach of permit conditions.
Pictures on social media showed the bright flaring visible from miles away, with photos from Edinburgh showing it lighting up the horizon.
And nearby residents 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.
In May, Sepa said it intended to seek prosecution over a series of unscheduled flares, which saw more than 900 complaints submitted.
The Forth Bridges tonight with the flare from Mossmorran giving this often captured scene an apocalyptic feel. pic.twitter.com/xqh3Mr39AG
— Simon Douglas (@sjedouglas) October 5, 2020
Chris Dailly, head of environmental performance at Sepa, said: “Whilst it’s again important to stress that limited, controlled flaring is an authorised and important safety feature of industrial sites, we’ve heard clearly from over 380 reports to Sepa of the impact this further flaring event is having on local communities.
“Having referred ExxonMobil Chemical Limited to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) for consideration of prosecution related to Easter 2019 flaring, we remain frustrated by the frequency of flaring and the flow of information from the operator.
“We are investigating whether there has been a breach of permit conditions which would inform our next steps in line with our published enforcement policy.
“We are clear on our expectations of the operator, including requiring the installation of noise-reducing flare tips followed by the installation of ground flares.
“Moreover, the operator must take steps to make flaring the exception rather than routine and if they will not, Sepa will consider further options to ensure they do so.”
— Tom Duffin Photographer (weePhotos) (@weePhotosEdin) October 5, 2020
In a statement on Twitter, ExxonMobil wrote: “As our team undertakes the safe re-start of our compressor, you may see some fluctuations in our elevated flare tonight.
“We will continue to minimise the size of the flare wherever possible and apologise again for any frustration caused by this work.”
Fife Councillor Darren Watt said: “Once again, residents throughout the area are subjected to horrendous noise and light pollution because of yet another major operational failure by ExxonMobil.
“This is unacceptable and their predictable assurances are quite frankly meaningless.
“Actions ultimately speak louder than words and they consistently fail to alleviate people’s legitimate fears and concerns about the plants overall safety and viability.”
He added: “Furthermore, this latest malfunction comes just days after the future of Mossmorran was discussed at the Scottish Parliament and only strengthens critics argument that the plant is simply no longer fit for purpose and transition away from its current operations is absolutely paramount.
“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.”
Probe as residents woken by ‘terrifying’ unplanned flaring at Mossmorran
Scottish Greens Fife MSP Mark Ruskell said: “Once again my constituents’ lives have been made a misery by this fossil fuel relic.
“Noise, light and vibration through the night makes it impossible for folk to get a decent nights sleep.
“ExxonMobil continues to treat those who live in the shadow of this plant with utter contempt.
“The Scottish Government’s repeated refusal to even meet with the local community to hear how this plant is impacting their health and wellbeing adds salt to the wound.”