Mossmorran: 97% drop in number of complaints over unscheduled flaring at plant

Mossmorran has seen a “significant reduction” in the number of complaints received, but councillors have promised not to grow complacent.
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In 2019, a series of “significant unplanned flaring events” at Fife Ethylene Plant triggered a huge backlash, and - 1421 complaints were received by the operators and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA.) Complaints spiked even higher in 2020 with 1671 received.

However, the latest available figures from 2022 shows just 42 were made - a 97% decrease.

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“It’s not that long ago we were getting reports that people were describing the noise of the ftTransportation and climate change scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday. “It certainly looks as though things are getting better, but we’ll be keeping an eye on it.”

ExxonMobil petrochemical plant at Mossmorran. (PIc: TSPL)ExxonMobil petrochemical plant at Mossmorran. (PIc: TSPL)
ExxonMobil petrochemical plant at Mossmorran. (PIc: TSPL)

The Mossmorran complex consists of two neighbouring plants: Fife Natural Gas Liquids (Fife NGL) plant operated by Shell, and Fife Ethylene Plant (FEP) operated by ExxonMobil.

During the meeting, councillors were told that there have never been any significant threats to public health or excessive reports of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as a result of their operations.

According to the 2022 report, there has been “significant investment by both operators” since the 2019 flaring incidents - including an £140m upgrade project by ExxonMobil to improve reliability and reduce the need for flaring. The investments have reduced the amount of noise and vibration previously reported by local residents during flaring events.

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New enclosed ground flares - which are expected to be operational later this year - will reduce the use of elevated flares by at least 98% with greatly reduced noise levels and no smoke/vibration are expected to be operational at the ExxonMobil operated plant. Enclosed ground flares are also planned at the Fife Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) Plant – with plans to be operational by December 2025.

According to Nigel Kerr, head of Fife Council’s protective services, SEPA has also put new air quality and noise monitoring systems in place.

However, Councillor Darren Watt (Conservative for Cowdenbeath) highlighted that the report is already outdated - with the data two years old. He also took issue with some quotes used in Mossmorran Complex communications.

“I very much welcome that we’ve seen a huge reduction in the number of complaints. That has to be congratulated, no question about that,” he said. “However, I do take umbrage with the quote on one of the videos where it was said that we,the community, speak and they, Shell and Exxonm listen. My memory may be a bit hazy, but not so long ago in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 we didn’t have to speak, we had to shout, we had to be heard and protesting.

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“We had to get SEPA and take it to the Scottish Government - to the point that both firms were issued with final warning letters in 2018.”

The general message from the committee was that things are better than they were but councillors would not be easing up or growing complacent. They will continue to keep an eye on Mossmorran operations. The 2023 report will be presented later this year. Mr Kerr said services were catching up on work that was put on hold and impacted by the pandemic.