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Mossmorran: ‘Smoky flare’ warning as essential maintenance gets underway

Mossmorran petrochemical plant in Fife.
Mossmorran petrochemical plant in Fife.

Operators at Fife’s Mossmorran petrochemical plant are warning of possible “smoky flaring” as the first phase of essential maintenance gets underway.

Shell UK, operators of Fife’s Natural Gas Liquefaction (NGL) facility, will begin work to replace one of the plant’s three flare tips.

The work, they say, entails “a small chance of a smoky flare”.

It’s the first phase of the maintenance project due to begin on Monday, April 11 and will run until April 20.

During the process steam which is normally used to reduce smoke emissions will be unavailable.

‘Smoky flare’

The firm says it is unlikely to use the elevated flare during this time but has warned that if it is required it may produce a smoky flame until steam is reinstated.

In a letter to community groups, Shell UK said: “Next week we begin a project to replace one of the Fife NGL plant’s three flare tips, and this entails a small chance of a smoky flare.

Flaring at the plant has been a problem in the past.

“As part of essential preparations, we plan to take a series of short duration steam outages during the daytime between Monday 11 – Wednesday April 20.

“Steam, which is used to minimise smoke and ensure the full combustion of the flare, will be unavailable temporarily.

“We aim to not use the elevated flare during this time but in the unlikely case that we do, it may be smoky for a short period until the steam is reinstated

Phase one of maintenance

“This process will be carefully managed by our operators, and steam will be reinstated in the evenings and during any breaks in the work.”

The company also advised that phase two of the maintenance process, at a date yet to be confirmed, will involve a similar steam outage.

“We will require a further 5-day steam outage in the next phase of the project, and I will issue a separate community notice for this,” the operator stated.

“We are keeping regulator SEPA informed of the project and the steam outages.”

This latest maintenance comes just months after fellow operator ExxonMobil completed a £140m upgrade of its Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorron in an attempt to end years of unplanned flaring problem that had plagued the troubled site.

Both ExxonMobil and Shell have faced huge criticism from local communities over numerous bouts of unplanned flaring at the site in previous years.

The has been plagued with bouts of unplanned flaring in recent years.

The operators were also subject to an investigation by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) in 2018 over failings which resulted in final written warnings for the firms.

In August 2021, around a hundred climate Change protesters also descended on the plant calling for the site’s closure.

Climate Change protestors at Mossmorran in August 2021.

Shell UK has also moved to reassure the public over regular flaring that occurs at the plant.

Move to reassure the public

“The elevated flare has a pilot flame which is lit at all times, similar to the pilot in a household boiler,” said the company.

“Occasionally this flame is larger when we carry out small volume purges over short periods for routine procedures such as emptying pipework ahead of maintenance work.

“Although this is routine and not classed as a significant flaring event, we are aware this can be more visible to some at times, particularly nearby at night and in certain light and weather conditions.

“We aim to manage this routine work carefully, and we remain committed to issuing community notices for significant flaring events.”

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