New technology that could help muffle the sound of flaring from a controversial Fife petrochemical plant is due to be in place by the end of the year.
ExxonMobil’s Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorran has been given the green light by planners to replace its existing elevated flare tip at the complex, which should not only lower the noise levels at the site but also cut down on the noise and vibrations many surrounding communities say have been making their lives a misery over the years.
The development comes amid ongoing scrutiny over the plant’s operations following periods of unplanned flaring last year.
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) was inundated with complaints from neighbouring towns and villages in relation to noise and light pollution during the process, and it previously issued final warning letters to plant operators ExxonMobil and Shell about flaring which it said was “preventable and unacceptable”.
An action plan was subsequently drawn up to ensure flaring would be the “exception rather than routine”, and operators were asked to develop the “best available” techniques at the plant as well as add new infrastructure to address people’s concerns.
The new tip on the flare, which can be likened to the exhaust of a car, should significantly reduce noise and will also allow operators to use more steam which produces less black smoke during flaring.
The Courier understands work should be completed by December 31 this year as per Sepa’s instructions, and obtaining planning consent is one of the final hurdles towards that goal.
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said: “We are pleased that we have been given planning permission for our new flare tip. This will allow us to include these improvements in our planned programme of works.”
Plant manager Jacob McAlister also previously said: “This technology alone can reduce the noise and vibration compared with our current flare.”
Flares at Mossmorran are a vital part of the plant’s safety system and are used to burn off gas that cannot be processed safely due to the volumes involved or gas being off specification.
ExxonMobil has a 100-metre-high elevated flare stack as part of the Fife Ethylene Plant and it is this stack which is the subject of this planning application.
The addition of the replacement flare tip will increase the height of the total flare stack by just under one-and-a-half metres and, although council officials have been unable to carry out a site visit due to Covid-19 concerns, case officer Martin McGrorarty said a risk assessment had been carried out and deemed acceptable.
“The proposed replacement flare tip is a very specific piece of technology that is required to be applied to the existing elevated flare stack so that the Mossmorran complex can continue operating safely and in accord with environmental regulation,” he added.
“It represents a wholly compatible development within the context of the Mossmorran complex and would not raise any new issues for the operation of the Fife Ethylene Plant, Shell NGL facility or surrounding areas, including towns and villages in the local area.”
No objections to the plans were lodged and the Mossmorran Action Group, which has been campaigning for such improvements to the plant, said they were happy to see Sepa tightening up on enforcement, although spokesman James Glen previously said there is a “long way to go before communities are pleased”.