Fife flaring to end overnight as plant returns to normal

Flaring at Exxon Mobil in Fife, March 2018 (Pic: FFP)
Flaring at Exxon Mobil in Fife, March 2018 (Pic: FFP)

Flaring at Exxon Mobil should end overnight and Fife Ethylene Plant will return to normal.

The assurance came this afternoon after a weekend of flaring which has sparked more controversy, and criticism, from local communities and politicians.

Work to restart the giant plant is on-going – although the flare could still be seen for miles around early this evening.

It was clearly visible to traffic coming into Fife on the Queensferry Crossing, and has been since it started around 6.00 am on Friday when the safety mechanism for the site’s main compressor – which takes gas from the plant’s furnaces and compresses it ready for the next stage of the ethylene production process – shut down the compressor as a precaution.

The site’s safety systems re-routed the gas safely to the elevated flare which has lit up the night skies throughout the weekend, sparking an angry backlash in nearby communities, and among a number of politicians.

Regulator SEPA has had officers out and about in neighbouring communities monitoring any impact, and both it and the company have been significantly more active on the PR front than in previous incidents.

Exxon Mobile’s fourth update was issued this afternoon, and it confirmed the plant was returning to normal.

It also stressed the important role it plays in the community and championed its investment in its facility.

Sonia Bingham, plant manager at the Fife Ethylene Plant, said its operations team was ‘‘working diligently through every step in the re-start process.’’

She added: ‘‘We anticipate that we will return to normal operations overnight tonight.’’

She said Exxon, ‘‘as a responsible operator’’ was committed to restoring normal operations as soon as possible, and her team was making every effort to minimise any disturbance to the community, adding: ‘‘Safety and environmental protection remain our highest priorities.”

She continued: “We recognise that flaring can cause concern to local residents. I apologise to the local communities and would like to assure them that we are doing everything we can to minimise any disturbance or inconvenience.”

Exxon insisted flaring was ‘‘a vital safety precaution for plants like FEP,’’ and there is no danger to local communities or its workforce.

She said regulator, SEPA, was kept fully informed of the progress, and every step was taken to keep communities advised.

The company’s statement also gave a robust defence of its role in the Fife economy, describing it as ‘‘ major employer’’ and ‘‘an integral part of the community for more than 30 years.’’

It added: ‘‘We run a strong, sustainable business. We are continuing to invest strongly in the plant for the long-term and are also committed to ongoing investment in our workforce. Our apprenticeship scheme is an example of our track record in this.