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PLANS to keep the Fife Ethylene Plant running for at least another 20 years have been described as a “bombshell” for local communities.
ExxonMobil’s Martin Burrell told councillors last week that the Mossmorran site was “one of the youngest plants they have in Europe” and that others have been running for up to 70 years.
The plant manager said that with the company’s £140m investment in the site and growing demand for their products, he hoped the site would continue to operate for at least another 20 years.
James Glen, chair of the Mossmorran Action Group (MAG), said the long-term commitment was a “bombshell” announcement.
He said: “Exxon has absolutely no plans to wind down production or transition to less environmentally damaging operations.
“This will come as a bitter blow to communities who have hoped that an end was in sight to the risk and harms to their health and wellbeing which Mossmorran has been inflicting on them since 1985.”
The £140m investment includes a new flare tip while millions more will be spent on the new enclosed ground flare, which should significantly reduce noise, light and vibration when there is flaring – the burning of excess or waste gas.
ExxonMobil said it should be operational by the end of 2022, the original date was 2024.
Ian Buchanan, from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), said: “We have been clear that flaring, while an important safety feature of industrial facilities, will become the ‘exception rather than routine’ and new infrastructure, including new totally enclosed ground flares, will address the issues that cause most disturbance to local people.”
He added: “We welcome ExxonMobil’s announcement that timelines for the new totally enclosed ground flare unit – which will result in less noise, less light and less disturbance – to be safely operational can be brought forward.”
However, Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, Mark Ruskell, said: “The new ground flares will hopefully reduce the noise and light pollution experienced by local residents during flaring incidents, but local people will be frustrated to learn they have to wait another two years before they start to see the benefits, and quite frankly the wait is unacceptable.
“Work to install a new flare tip has already been pushed back into late 2021, so many will quite rightly ask where the urgency is on this matter.
“The new flare will also not address the catastrophic climate change emissions caused by Mossmorran.
“Reducing the impact on local neighbours is only part of the issue that needs addressing if we are to understand what kind of a future this plant faces.”
Mr Glen added: “We’re not welcoming the enclosed ground flares but we’re not dismissing them out of hand either.
“Anything that the Mossmorran operators do to reduce flaring or to mitigate the noise, light and air pollution it produces is welcome, but these measures should have been in place years ago.
“The beginning of a planning process for an extremely belated ground flare in no way lets ExxonMobil, Shell, SEPA and the Scottish Government off the hook.”
He said they also welcomed the “long overdue” suspension of the pond-dipping trips but were frustrated that ExxonMobil had not accepted invites to public meetings.
The company said they believed the best course was to continue to meet with community councils, the “elected representatives of our communities” who could represent more than 30,000 people, and engage with Fife Council’s Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Community and Safety Liaison Committee.
However, Mr Glen said: “ExxonMobil is running scared and seeking to hide behind community councils, which have a poor record in being a voice for affected residents and standing up to the operators.
“Fife Council should recognise the work MAG has done on Mossmorran and how it is the leading and trusted forum for residents’ voices on the issue by insisting that it is included in the reformed committee.”