A £140 million investment into the troubled Mossmorran petro-chemical plant in Fife could signal the end to years of flaring misery for beleaguered communities, it has been announced.
The multi-million pound upgrade of the ExxonMobil Fife Ethylene Plant is to commence in April to improve site reliability and reduce the impacts of flaring which SEPA has said must become the “exception rather than routine”.
There is now a “clear pathway to compliance” for the Mossmorran industrial complex, SEPA says, while the investment will see 1,000 workers delivering over 300,000 hours to deliver improvements at the facility.
Work will include the installation of a noise reducing flare tip this spring and a fully enclosed ground flare that ExxonMobil has committed to install in 2022, which the company claims will reduce the use of the elevated flare by 98%.
ExxonMobil is confident it will “significantly improve” the reliability of its Fife Ethylene Plant, reducing the requirement for flaring which has brought a huge backlash from communities over the last three years.
SEPA will increase monitoring, community liaison and enforcement at both the ExxonMobil and Shell operated complex as part of a number of recommendations from a review undertaken by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency in May 2020.
Terry A’Hearn, SEPA chief executive, said: “SEPA has been clear that compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable, that flaring at the Mossmorran complex was unacceptable and must become the exception rather than routine.
“We’ve used the full force of our powers, from regulatory requirements and operating permit variations to Final Warning Letters and submission of a report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution.
“We’ve also been clear that our actions present a clear pathway to compliance for the industrial complex and that what mattered to communities was actions rather than words.”
He added that the £140m investment marked a “major milestone” which would result in less flaring and less impact on communities on the occasions flaring is required in the future.
“Robust regulation takes time but through our work and the significant investment by site operators, hope and a clear pathway to compliance is now in sight for local communities who can be assured of our enhanced vigilance over this important period and beyond,” said Mr A’Hearn.
The news has been given a cautious welcome by community representatives.
Cowdenbeath Councillor, Darren Watt, said: “After years of disruption and misery caused by plant failures and flaring, such significant investment will largely be welcomed by local communities.
“I will however reserve judgement until sometime after upgrades and improvements have been completed.
“The flaring itself is only one area of concern for many residents, the fact ExxonMobil needed to flare outwith scheduled maintenance is another.
“We need assurances the plant is indeed safe and fit for purpose, and only time well tell.”