Public warned flaring at Mossmorran chemical plant to continue for five days while repairs carried out

MOSSMORRAN chemical plant is to flare for five straight days while work is carried out on the Fife Ethylene facility, it has been announced.

Monday, 1st July 2019, 5:44 pm
Bosses at Mossmorran chemical plant have warned current flaring could last up to five days.
Bosses at Mossmorran chemical plant have warned current flaring could last up to five days.

A period of flaring began on Monday morning following reports of the flare from the top of the tower on Saturday afternoon.

Residents have previously complained over an increased level of activity at the chemical plant, despite Exxon and Shell UK - who jointly operate the plant - being served with a final warning notice by regulators last year.

However, in a letter addressed to disgruntled members of the community, plant manager Jacob McAlister said the work was "necessary" to carry out vital repairs on a section of piping at the facility.

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He wrote: “To allow us to safely conduct work to replace a section of pipe at the Fife Ethylene Plant, our elevated flare will be in operation from tomorrow for a period anticipated to be no more than five days."

"To actively minimise amenity impact, we have taken the significant step of reducing gas input to the plant to ensure the flare is operating with a reduced volume. We will also work round the clock to complete this essential work as safely and quickly as possible.

“While absolutely understanding that flaring can cause community concern, I believe we share the same commitment to continued safe operations and that this should always be the overriding priority.

“I can reassure you that flaring is a safe and permitted part of the plant’s safety and operating systems, and allows us to maintain steady operations during the work. SEPA, HSE and other regulatory and stakeholder partners have been advised.

Exxon and Shell UK - who are co-operators of the plant - have previously been handed a final warning notice over flaring incidents by industry regulators.

“As we have always indicated, we strive to avoid the use of flaring but there is a need to do so on this occasion. We apologise to anyone concerned by the flaring, and thank our local communities for their patience and understanding."

In April, days of "unplanned flaring" at the chemical plant sent a plume of thick black smoke billowing into the sky over Fife.

Operators blamed a "process interruption" for a 30ft high orange flame erupting from the ethylene plant near Cowdenbeath on Easter Sunday after locals reported they were unable to open their windows or sit outside in gardens on one of the hottest days of the year.

The incident caused a record number of complaints to be submitted to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).

The environmental watchdog later launched an investigation into the incident, a year after a final warning was issued to bosses.

SEPA 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.

Exxon said a cable that was responsible for the burning incident had been replaced and the affected boiler re-started.

Mossmorran Action Group spokesman James Glen called on Exxon to be more transparent when detailing their reasons for flaring incidents.

He said: "We’re grateful ExxonMobil has notified us about 5 days of flaring from tomorrow, but their statement raises more questions than it answers."

"What exactly is the maintenance issue? Is it related to the ethane leak, the flaring this weekend or is it another emergency?

"If it is a genuinely planned shutdown, why didn’t ExxonMobil inform the politicians and community reps on Friday when they attended the latest meeting of Lesley Laird’s Mossmorran working group?

"As flaring is becoming ever more frequent, people are left wondering whether the plant is now too old and rickety to run safely.”