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Anger is mounting across Fife after flaring continued to cause disruption for residents living within a wide area of the Mossmorran chemical plant.
One Cowdenbeath resident said she was on the point of fleeing her home as eruptions from the site shook her house.
A fault in a compressor at ExxonMobil’s Fife Ethylene Plant is being blamed for the latest bout of flaring, which began lighting up the night sky in the early hours of Sunday.
ExxonMobil insists the process is “completely safe” and is required so the site can operate safely.
However, this latest flaring episode has enraged people in surrounding communities, who say they are facing sleepless nights as a result of the orange glow and accompanying rumbling from the plant.
Elaine Green, 56, said: “At about half three in the morning, the building was just rumbling and shaking, and it woke me up.
“When I looked out of the window, it was pure orange and the worst thing just goes through your mind.
“I have a wee ornament hanging on one of the doors in the bedroom and it was rattling off the door.
“It was really frightening.
“I was getting ready to wake my husband up and say ‘we need to get out of here’. That’s how bad it is.”
A number of residents said their children and pets had been distressed by the disruption.
Cowdenbeath electrician Brandon Burdett, 20, said: “I can feel it all throughout my house as though there is an earthquake. The noise is excruciatingly loud, like a helicopter is flying overhead. It’s worrying.”
Probe as residents woken by ‘terrifying’ unplanned flaring at Mossmorran
He was also alerted to a “loud rumbling” early on Sunday morning and opened his door to be hit by a stench in the air.
“The best way to describe it was bitter and quite thick,” he said.
“When I opened my door it was not just the smell but the heat as well. I could feel it as though I was sitting next to a fire.”
Local conservative councillor Darren Watt said he shared residents’ concerns.
“While we all understand the need for flaring during plant failings and maintenance, it’s the frequency that’s the real concern,” he said.
“It does little to ease the minds of those concerned about the plant’s overall safety and long term viability.”
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) submitted a report to the Crown Office earlier this year, seeking a prosecution over prolonged flaring in April 2019.
The agency received more than 900 complaints – the most ever received by its pollution hotline – in relation to the episode.
The move followed a 2018 “final warning letter” issued to ExxonMobil for flaring in 2017 described as “preventable and unacceptable”.
Mossmorran operators have been told by Sepa to install noise-reducing flare tips and invest in ground flares to reduce the impact on communities.
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However, as a result of delays related to the Covid-19 pandemic, ExxonMobil was given more time to complete its flare-tip installation and will now have to complete the work by May next year.
Sepa said environment protection officers had been deployed to record community impacts at five locations around the site following the latest incident.
The agency said it would assess data and evidence gathered to determine whether there had been a breach of ExxonMobil’s permit conditions.
Fife Ethylene Plant manager Jacob McAlister said engineers were working to replace a faulty part in the plant’s compressor so operations could re-start.
“During this time, we will continue working to minimise elevated flaring wherever possible,” he said.
“We will provide a further update when the compressor is re-started and we have returned to normal production.
“We understand that our elevated flare can cause frustration, but it ensures we maintain safe operations and is not something we would ever use without good reason.”