Activists pressed ahead with a public meeting to discuss the future of Mossmorran amid COP26 despite just a handful of people turning up.
Fewer than 10 people – most of them organisers -were at St Serf’s Church in Lochgelly to listen to the invited speakers who attended.
Mossmorran Action Group (MAG) had asked ExxonMobil, Shell, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Government, Fife Council, NHS Fife and local politicians to attend.
But there were mostly empty seats behind the printed name cards.
Could COP26 mobilise more Mossmorran activists?
That did not prevent a lively debate about the future of the controversial chemical plant located near Cowdenbeath and operated by ExxonMobil and Shell.
Ryan Morrison from Friends of the Earth Scotland said COP26 should be a rallying call for communities to protest for action on climate change.
“When I think about what COP means for Mossmorran and what Mossmorran means for COP, it’s in meetings like this where people in the community come together and ask for representatives to come around.”
He said COP26 had the potential to inspire “protest on a scale that I’ve not seen so far in Scotland”.
Mr Morrison said carbon capture and storage (CCS) was not the solution for decarbonising industry.
ExxonMobil have applied for Mossmorran to be linked to the Acorn CCS scheme at St Fergus gas terminal in Aberdeenshire.
However, Acorn recently hit a set-back when it failed to gain UK Government support in the first round of CCS funding.
Mr Morrison said the Scottish Government was depending on CCS to meet its climate targets.
“That’s an incredibly shoogly peg to hang your plans on,” he said.
CCS has ‘failed for 50 years’
“It takes five to seven years. But even more than that, we have 50 years of failure. It’s been spoken about since the sixties. This isn’t a new technology.”
Mr Morrison said there was no CCS plants in Europe but they can be found in America.
“There is one in America in particular which promises a capture rate of 90% of emissions. It’s actual operation is about 60%.
“My fear is that we’re not planning for a just transition on any solid basis if it relies on CCS.”
Mr Morrison, Fife Labour councillor Linda Erskine, and Green MSP Mark Ruskell initially appeared to be the only panel members.
That was until Labour MSP Alex Rowley made a surprise appearance and was immediately invited to join the speakers.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about who’s here and who’s not here because it’s a distraction from what the issue is,” said Mr Rowley.
MSP says plant should stay open – if it is operating safely
With COP26 just days away, Mr Rowley highlighted the fact that Mossmorran was Scotland’s third worst polluter.
But he made clear that he did not support the closure of the plant.
Mossmorran employs in the region of 800 people.
However he said there were “a lot of questions” surrounding its safety.
ExxonMobil could face prosecution over flaring at the site – the Health and Safety Executive has submitted a report to the Crown Office.
People living close to the plant say noise and vibration, and light pollution, during flaring is ruining lives.
But ExxonMobil says the recent £140 million upgrade of Fife Ethylene Plant and enclosed ground flare technology being installed will mitigate the impact on communities.
Mr Rowley was more positive about the prospect of CCS at Mossmorran.
He added: “The argument would be it’s not about closing Mossmorran it’s about tackling the emissions from Mossmorran.”
Mr Ruskell arrived late to the meeting after having difficulty charging his electric car.
He highlighted the Scottish Government’s commitment to establishing a Just Transition Commission.
However, he said carbon capture should not form the basis of just transition plans at Mossmorran.
“What we’ve seen so far with just transition plans, particularly at Grangemouth, is operators like Ineos who are saying we know what we want to do, we want to carry on doing what we already do, just build in some carbon capture on the side.
“I don’t want that to happen at Mossmorran.”
He added: “It needs to be about the future and future jobs.
“Everybody recognises there is a lifespan to Mossmorran but we need to think about the next 30 years, 50 years, 100 years.
“There should be a conversation about what jobs do young people want to have in the future.”
MAG ‘not inspired’ by climate change
Linda Holt from MAG said addressing climate change had not been the initial aim of the group.
MAG was formed to campaign against the plant’s social, health and environmental impacts on local communities.
Ms Holt said Mag was “very careful not to call for the closure of the plant” because it was feared “nobody would talk to us”.
However, she said communities “want to see the back of it” because of the impacts of flaring.
And she added: “Mossmorran is going regardless of what you think about just transition. The market will force shut downs there.”
Ms Erskine said she chaired an area committee meeting earlier this year when ExxonMobil and Shell had given presentations.
“I’ll be absolutely honest, it was a box ticking exercise,” she said.
She warned that climate change was affecting communities close to home.
“There’s an opportunity to make a difference but the government has to be really committed to it.”