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Long-awaited efforts to reduce a controversial gas plant’s impact on the local community have taken a step forward with the approval of a new ground flare.
Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorran, operated by oil giant ExxonMobil, has secured permission from Fife Council to install the feature.
Standing at 31m high the enclosed ground flare (EGF) will “significantly minimise” the use of the existing elevated flare to burn off excess gas – an issue that has concerned neighbouring residents for years.
Exxon claims it will cut use of the elevated flare by up to 98 per cent – but the stack will remain for use in extraordinary events.
ExxonMobil has been forced to flare gas on a number of occasions in recent years for safety reasons.
Both it and Shell, which operates the adjacent Fife Natural Gas Liquids plant, were served with final warnings by environment watchdog Sepa in 2018.
Last year, incidences of flaring were referred to the Crown Office for potential prosecution under environment laws.
Martin Burrell, plant manager at Fife Ethylene Plant, said: “As part of our application we provided a range of assessments describing the impact of the new enclosed ground flare.
“As expected, noise modelling showed the EGF would bring ‘considerable improvement’ particularly at low frequency, one of the main things highlighted by neighbouring communities, and independent air quality modelling confirmed that the EGF will continue to have no impact on local air quality standards.
“Flood assessment demonstrated that there was no additional flood risk, and a landscape assessment concluded the EGF will not stand out in the landscape.
“The ecology report prepared by an external ecologist surveyed the site for endangered wildlife, this included water samples to look for Great Crested Newts.
“All of these, conducted in support of the planning application, demonstrated the overwhelming benefit of the enclosed ground flare.
“This approval will now allow us to press ahead with our plans for the EGF, which is part of our 14-point plan to reduce flaring and ensure our operations are much quieter and less visible.”
Assessments carried out by independent analysts suggest a “very significant reduction” in noise levels and “negligible” other effects from the ground flare.
Fife Council planners agreed, noting the flare would “limit the adverse environmental impact” of elevated flaring. They approved the application with a handful of conditions to ensure safe construction and operation.
Preparation work for the EGF was also carried out as part of the recent £140m plant upgrade, keeping the unit on schedule for operation by end of 2022.
It is being designed and manufactured by Zeeco.
Its CEO, Darton Zink, said: “The EGF stands at the forefront of the latest advancements in proven flaring technology. Its design differs greatly from the existing flares at Mossmorran in that the flame itself is enclosed and will not be visible.”
However, locals in the surrounding towns remain hostile to Mossmorran’s continued operation.
Last weekend residents and climate activists gathered to call for the plants to be shut down and a just transition away from fossil fuels and to ‘greener’ jobs.
ExxonMobil says it is committed to reducing carbon emissions. However, unlike other firms such as Shell and BP, it is yet to commit to a solid net-zero target.