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THE Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorran has been branded “very poor” on pollution according to data from Scotland’s environmental watchdog.
Figures revealed that the plant fell foul of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) assessment because of a series of gas flaring incidents in April 2019.
It was previously rated as poor in 2018 and 2017.
The figures from Sepa, seen by the journalism co-operative The Ferret, were revealed as part of a joint week-long special investigation series launched by our sister paper The Herald, which asked the question: ‘How Green is Scotland?’
Overall more than 30 sites were rated as “very poor”, around 240 as “poor” and 150 as “at risk” of breaching environmental rules in 2019. Over 40 sites have been assessed as unsatisfactory – either very poor, poor or at risk – for the last four years running.
ExxonMobil, who run the Fife Ethylene Plant, said there have been improvements.
Plant manager Martin Burrell said: “While we are disappointed with the 2019 CAS assessment, in the more than two years that have since passed we have taken a series of actions to improve our operational reliability and reduce flaring.
“Actions include a recently-completed £140m plant upgrade, a 14-step flaring reduction plan, and an investment in an enclosed ground flare, which alone will reduce elevated flaring by at least 98 per cent when it becomes operational next year.
“Our flaring reduction plan has already delivered improvements, including the lowest ever rates of elevated flaring required for both the recent plant stand-down and re-start.
“’We remain committed to constructive and open dialogue with Sepa and other regulators, and to continuous improvement in our operations.”
Sepa usually conducts environmental compliance assessments of around 5,000 sites across Scotland every year.
Publication of the results for 2019, however, has been repeatedly delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and a Christmas 2020 cyber attack on the environmental agency.
After the cyber attack – said to have been launched by an international criminal gang – a detailed spreadsheet showing draft results for 2019 was posted online. This information has been analysed, checked and independently verified by The Ferret.
Sepa abandoned full site assessments in 2020 because of the restrictions resulting from Covid-19 lockdowns. But it is planning to publish a report on compliance in 2020, along with its delayed 2019 assessments, before Christmas.
The multiple breaches were described as “shocking and damning” by the Scottish Greens.
“Compliance at Mossmorran and Grangemouth has been poor for years,” said the party’s environment spokesperson, Fife MSP Mark Ruskell.
“These sites are industrial relics that are making a major contribution to the climate emergency. Only meaningful regulatory reform can tackle entrenched compliance problems, alongside sanctions and fines that actually hurt companies that damage the planet.”
Sepa said environmental compliance was “non-negotiable” and that overall compliance had been over 90 per cent for four years to 2018.
“Sepa is firmly focussed on getting all remaining businesses to compliance, whilst supporting as many as possible to innovate and go even further,” said a spokesperson for the agency.
“We do not comment on stolen information, illegally published by likely international serious and organised criminals, and we are unable to confirm data until published.”