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Probe launched into two ‘explosions’ at Fife chemical plant

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An investigation has been launched into two “explosions” at ExxonMobil’s Mossmorran plant in Fife, it has emerged.

Members of the Mossmorran Working Group were told on Friday that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is carrying out a probe into two boiler failures which caused a complete plant shutdown in August.

Reports suggest two blasts, understood to have been caused by a critical build-up of pressure in the units, happened on separate occasions in August.

One of the incidents is said to have happened at 7am and to have had a blast radius of 20 to 25 metres.

No-one was hurt in either episode and there were no flames. The Courier understands ExxonMobil representatives at the Mossmorran Working Group meeting maintained the incidents had not been “explosive” in nature.

However, Linda Holt, of the Mossmorran Action Group, said a HSE official had described the incidents as a “catastrophic breakdown”.

She added: “We were also told that neither HSE nor Exxon have so far identified the cause.

“Rumours have been circulating locally that the boilers exploded, and HSE’s confirmation makes a mockery of ExxonMobil’s communication strategy.

“For years local communities have lived with the fear of an accident at the plant; trying to hide explosions behind an announcement of £140m investment will only exacerbate local mistrust and fear.”

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP Lesley Laird said it was clear the incidents had been “very serious” and described lines of inquiry as “complex”.

A spokesperson for HSE said: “HSE’s investigations into two explosions at Exxonmobil’s Mossmoran installation are currently ongoing.”

In July, the plant was issued with an improvement notice over the risk of an explosion.

At the time the HSE said ExxonMobil had failed to take all measures necessary to reduce the risk of “firebox explosion from furnaces”.

The firebox is an area in the plant’s furnaces where fuel is burnt.

In response to the explosion claims, Stuart Neill, external affairs manager for ExxonMobil, said: “We are concerned that comments have been made publicly on an ongoing regulatory investigation.

“It would be inappropriate for ExxonMobil to comment until the HSE’s investigation, and our own, have been completed.”

The news came just hours after the HSE said it had found “weaknesses” in risk assessments for school pond dipping trips to the plant, and urged ExxonMobil and Fife Council to review and update communications when planning the excursions.

The ruling comes a few months after the Kinghorn-based Ecology Centre, which provides tutors for the sessions, said it would terminate its relationship with ExxonMobil after campaigners branded the trips a “dangerous PR stunt”.

While seeking improvements, the HSE stressed it would “not discourage visits” as long as the risks are “appropriately managed”.

Mr Neill said: “We have safely run our environmental pond programme for over 15 years and have seen more than 20,000 local school children benefit from this insight to environmental science.

“We will embrace any recommendations from the HSE that help to further strengthen our risk assessment process.”

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