Mossmorran in spotlight after major ‘unplanned’ flaring sparks backlash

It has been revealed that a significant flaring at Mossmorran last night was not scheduled.

By Allan Crow
Friday, 14th February 2020, 5:17 pm
Flaring at Mossmorran (Pic: Cllr Darren Watt)
Flaring at Mossmorran (Pic: Cllr Darren Watt)

Environmental agency SEPA said it lasted nearly four hours – and was the result of a problem in the process units and reduced capacity of ground flares.

The skies across Fife were lit up so bright, the flare could be seen from miles away in Dundee and Edinburgh.

Fife Ethylene Plant was de-commissioned in August for repairs after two explosions in boilers, and it has yet to confirm a date for re-starting.

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Recent work has been on-going to bring the plant back on stream.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency said the flaring last night did not breach air quality standards, but social media was awash with complaints from residents who were critical of the noise and vibration it caused.

SEPA said it understood those concerns and would review the incident.

It said it was “a reminder of why short and medium term solutions are critical to addressing ‘unacceptable flaring.”

The agency understands the restart is likely to continue into the weekend and it advised it will continue daily regulatory updates.

The agency, which had regulatory, noise and air monitoring capabilities deployed across the incident, said it heard clearly the level of community anxiety.

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Chris Dailly, SEPA’s head of environmental performance, said: “We think it’s important to be clear on the causes of the flaring in the final stage of this restart.

“We know people also want information on our monitoring. Since last year SEPA has had monitoring points around the site. Initial data suggests that whilst clearly there was elevated flaring, there was no breach of UK Air Quality Standard.

“We publish the data we collect on a weekly basis and now some 28 detailed reports are available.

“We accept that flaring is causing people worry, anxiety and stress.

“That’s why our firm focus is on addressing the root-causes of ‘unacceptable flaring’ and making flaring an exception rather than routine, which is currently not the case. The short and medium-term investment we’re requiring the operators to make, from noise reducing flare tips in 2020 and 2021 and planning, designing then delivering new ground flare capacity will make a real difference to local communities.

“We appreciate communities want action, not words which is why we’re focused on rapid conclusion of regulatory investigation to an evidential standard and to the next steps in driving systemic change at Mossmorran. We’ll provide more information as quickly as possible and would encourage anyone impacted to report any concerns at www.sepa.org.uk/report so these are formally reviewed and considered by specialist officers.“

Mossmorran Action Group (MAG) branded ExxonMobil’s apology as worthless.

James Glen, who chairs the group, said: “Sorry” does not pacify terrified children or make up for sleepless nights or aggravated breathing conditions. Nor does it mean there will be no more extreme flaring as we saw last night.

As ever, the multinational’s PR downplays the impact, claiming that the flaring was “not unusual” and that they are doing everything they can for a safe restart with minimal flaring.

“Local communities do not trust a word Exxon says. Their health and well-being mean nothing when set against the huge profits of the oil and gas industry.”

Fife MSP, Alex Rowley, criticised the Scottish Government over its handling of Mossmorran’s long-known issues.

He said:”In 2017, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham turned down my request for an independent investigation into Mossmorran, on the dubious grounds that she ‘must remain distant”’from questioning regulatory decisions made by SEPA, because ministers might have to take a role in any subsequent appeals.

“This is clearly not acceptable, Local people are living in fear due to the constant, increasing and deeply intrusive flaring from Mossmorran. People have told me how they can hear vibrations in their homes from miles away, how they can smell the smoke from the flare, and that the entire area is lit up as if under a spotlight.

“The Scottish Government cannot hide from this any longer. It must investigate what is going on, and put an end to the misery this is inflicting on many people’s live