SEPA set to deliver verdict on Mossmorran flaring

Picture of flaring at Mossmorran which lit up the night skies above Fife and could be seen ass far as Edinburgh
Picture of flaring at Mossmorran which lit up the night skies above Fife and could be seen ass far as Edinburgh

An investigation into flaring at Mossmorran, which caused outrage among local communities, could be concluded later this year.

The results of SEPA’s findings are expected to conclude in November.

Unscheduled flarings have pushed the giant petrochemical plant into the headlines for all the wrong reasons across the past 12 months, resulting in the launch of Mossmorran Communities Working Group to keep the pressure on operators, ExxonMobil and Shell, to be better neighbours.

They were handed final warning letters by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for unscheduled flaring last June – but faced other investigations after incidents in Otober and March.

The plant, which processes 50 per cent of Scotland’s energy, was told by SEPA that “environmental compliance is non-negotiable.”

The environment agency and the Health And Safety Executive both attended the most recent meeting of the cross-party working group to give an update on the situation..

Lesley Laird MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, who chairs the group with Prof. Wilson Sibbett, said: “While there have been no major incidents of late, communities were plagued by a series of prolonged flaring episodes at Mossmorran over the past year. We still don’t know why that was the case.

“There are still open lines of enquiry, but representatives from SEPA/HSE were able to tell us that the joint investigation is expected to conclude in November.

“The findings, including any interventions required, will then be available on HSE’s website within 30 days.”

She welcome the clear timetable, adding: “I’m glad a date has been announced because the regularity of these episodes was unacceptable and communities surrounding Mossmorran deserve answers.

”We also need to know how this can be prevented from happening again in future.”

The working group, was told the 222km-long St Fergus pipeline, which supplies ethylene to the site and provides 15 per cent of Scotland’s gas supply, cannot be shut down automatically, and that flaring was an essential safety mechanism.

Representatives from Shell and ExxonMobil said £225m had been invested in the plant in 2010 to ensure it was “fit for another 50 years” and that the plant’s reputation and safety record was of paramount importance.

At the working group’s previous meeting, held before the summer holidays, Terry A’Hearn, SEPA’s chief executive, spoke directly with community representatives and made a clear commitment to halt unplanned flaring.

Variations to Mossmorran’s permit were imposed by SEPA to include legally binding conditions requiring the plant to take preventative measure now against noise and vibration.

In addition, ExxonMobil and Shell revealed it was in the early stages of commissioning a review of the plant in light of best available techniques, which is expected to take up to a year to complete.

Ms Laird added: “We established this group to bring pressure to bear on Mossmorran and I think, by having the right people around a table, we are succeeding in that.

“At our most recent meeting progress was made in determining steps in a plan to ensure better monitoring of air quality, noise and vibration.

“We’ve still got a long way to go yet on this and other issues before communities will be satisfied their concerns have been properly addressed.

“But, thanks to the ongoing commitment of all members of the group, I think we’re on the right road.”

Rob Morris, SEPA area manager, said: “In June 2018 SEPA and the Health and Safety Executive announced a joint investigation into flaring that occurred at the Mossmorran facility in Fife.

“This focuses specifically on the May 2018 flaring event.

“At the same time SEPA is carrying out investigations into flaring events that have disturbed local residents over the last year and it is hoped that this work will conclude by the end of the year.”