Mossmorran chemical plant set to shut down until November over flaring incidents

A CONTROVERSIAL chemical facility is to cease operations until at least November following several unplanned flaring incidents, it has been reported.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 11:01 am
Bosses at the plant were ordered to temporarily shut down operations last month.
Bosses at the plant were ordered to temporarily shut down operations last month.

Mossmorran Ethylene Plant halted work last month after environmental chiefs received over 1,400 complaints from local residents over noise, vibrations and light pollution.

Operators ExxonMobil said they were extending the shutdown until the fourth quarter in order to make their process more "reliable".

It comes after a series of "unplanned flaring" incidents at the facility which sent a plume of thick black smoke billowing into the sky over Fife and saw a near 30ft high flame visible from across the Forth, with some branding it "brighter than the moon".

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Both companies have since had their permits varied and have been told to install flare tips that reduce noise.

But critics say the move points to a "catastrophic failure" at the plant and have called on regulators to do more to protect locals.

In a statement, Jacob McAlister, ExxonMobil's plant manager, said: "This move gives us the extra time to thoroughly understand and address the mechanical issues with our boilers, while also undertaking a programme of wider preventative work that will further improve reliability when we re-start the plant."

"This temporary shut-down has a significant commercial and operational impact for our company, but it underlines our commitment to ensuring safe and reliable operations."

He said local people might see a small amount of steam from the plant's elevated flare stack over the coming days.

He added: "This is from a temporary steam source we have installed simply to keep equipment warm as we progress our maintenance work."

"Our team continues working 24/7 to complete this work, and we will continue to keep you informed on progress."

Last year, bosses at the plant were served a final warning by the The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) after previous burning incidents.

The watchdog said environmental licences were breached and increased monitoring would be put in place following seven days of unplanned flaring in June 2017.

A five-month investigation found maintenance failures led to elevated levels of unplanned flaring during the incident. On that occasion, the flaring was caused by the breakdown of a vital condensate pump.

James Glen, chairman of the Mossmorran Action Group, said: "If Exxon is being shut down for so long, there has obviously been a catastrophic failure at the plant. Emergency shutdowns and major repairs should not be necessary if a plant is being maintained to the highest standards.

"After being promised the shutdown meant no more flaring, we've had Shell flaring almost continuously and now Exxon are announcing there will be further emissions from the elevated stack.

"As usual, Exxon is spinning a PR narrative which tells communities nothing reliable. Politicians and regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive who should be all over this are utterly ineffectual. Communities are sick to the back teeth."