Scotland’s environment watchdog has added more pressure on bosses of Mossmorran as the plant goes into a month-long shutdown.
SEPA – the Scottish Environment Protection Agency – has published the outcome of its review into the key ‘Best Available Techniques’ (BAT) assessments by ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK.
And both companies come in for criticism.
The agency publicly stated ExxonMobil and Shell UK are “not currently using the Best Available Techniques (BAT) for flaring.
It said ExxonMobil’s proposed timescales were unacceptable.– and Shell UK had “not sufficiently demonstrated that proposed principles, approach and level of upgrade to the plant would achieve BAT” and were “unacceptable.”
SEPA said it would move within seven days to vary the plant’s operating permits to include required timescales for the implementation of BAT assessments.
The moves come as Mossmorran goes into shutdown for up to four weeks after two of its three boilers failed, resulting in what the company said was necessary flaring before repair work got underway.
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The latest incident will be the subject of a SEPA investigation, but the organisation’s main focus is its probe into unscheduled flaring which happened in April – described by many as one of the worst incidents.
It saw thick black smoke billow into the sky, and could seen across the Forth, while local residents spoke out about the noise and light impact on their daily lives.
A statement said it was “a complex regulatory investigation to an evidential standard involving specialist technical, regulatory and enforcement officers” and would conclude by end November, subject to no new lines of enquiry being uncovered during this phase.
Chris Dailly, head of environmental performance, said: “SEPA has repeatedly said that compliance with Scotland’s environmental rules is simply non-negotiable. Communities across Fife have had to endure repeated “preventable and unacceptable” flaring.
“We’ve heard clearly the frustration of local people and are today reaching another key milestone in our regulatory response which will drive necessary action to upgrade the site and limit its impact on local communities.
“We’ve published in full the proposals from both companies, our responses and our latest air quality monitoring summary report. We’ll publish more information next week and are committed to keeping people informed.”
Full details on the investigations have been posted on SEPA’s website as part of that pledge.
It includes the review into BAT assessments by the two companies, which they were instructed to conduct in June 2018.
These were delivered in April this year, and have been subject to “a rigorous review by technical specialists.”
The agency said it “has found that ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell U.K. Limited are not currently using all BAT for flaring.”
It acknowledged ExxonMobil’s recognition of the requirement to upgrade the plant but said its proposed timescales to increase capacity and accessibility to ground flares “were unacceptable” - and found that Shell U.K. Limited “had not sufficiently demonstrated that the proposed principles, approach and level of upgrade to the plant would achieve Best Available Techniques and were also unacceptable.
Jacob McAlister, plant manager at Fife Ethylene Plant said: “We are taking the right and responsible action to minimise frequency and public concerns relating to flaring, and the Best Available Techniques Programme provides a clear pathway to achieve this.
“We are committed to delivering this extensive, multi-million £ programme. In fact, we have already progressed a number of these commitments.”