Campaigners have restated their call for a full independent study into the impacts of a Fife chemical plant after Scotland’s environmental watchdog said it was convinced flaring will be the “exception rather than routine”.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said on Friday it believes there is now a “clear pathway to compliance” for the Mossmorran industrial complex following years of unacceptable flaring, with a £140 million upgrade due to start at the Fife Ethylene Plant next month.
That will happen after final warning letters in 2018, the submission of a report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution in July 2020 and a series of stringent regulatory requirements and permit variations on site operators ExxonMobil and Shell.
However, members of the Mossmorran Action Group – which has called for the site to be decommissioned after years of unplanned flaring incidents – remain sceptical about SEPA’s influence after the outcome of a peer review by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) was published.
James Glen, chair of the Mossmorran Action Group, explained: “The IEPA review was the result of the thousands of complaints received by SEPA in the last few years from local residents affected by emergency flaring at the plant.
“There has been a widespread perception in affected communities that SEPA has been ineffectual.
“Long overdue upgrades are now being made partly because of the threat of legal action from SEPA, and we recognise that SEPA is limited by law in its regulatory function.
“Nevertheless IEPA identified clear areas where SEPA could improve – in terms of communication, accountability, transparency and most important, the installation of a permanent network real time volatile organic compound monitors to measure air quality around Mossmorran.
“It’s good to see SEPA maximising its regulatory role, but the Scottish Government is still failing to play its part by commissioning an independent expert study into the social, health and environmental impacts which the plant’s neighbours have endured since 1985.”
The best practice review was commissioned by SEPA in May 2020 to share good practice and advise on any further actions that may be taken to drive compliance at the Mossmorran site.
The review was part of a package of measures announced by SEPA including an independent technical assessment of the ground flare installation timeline from ExxonMobil, the publication of ambient air quality monitoring reports and support for Fife Council’s review of community liaison structures.
The improvement programme will see the installation of a noise reducing flare tip this spring, and the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare will reduce the use of the elevated flare by 98%.
Alongside that though, SEPA has also pledged to strengthen the regulation and monitoring of both sites across the investment period.
Terry A’Hearn, SEPA chief executive, said: “We’ve 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.
“In our focus on Mossmorran, we’re using every tool available to drive investment, improvements and hold both operators to account, including an independent technical assessment and a best practice review by our sister environment protection agency.
“Communities across Fife have the right to a future where flaring is the exception rather than routine.
“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.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in October that the Scottish Government would consider an inquiry but “cannot simply cast aside” ongoing legal processes from SEPA and the Crown Office.
- June 2018 : Notices of variations to permits were served on ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited which included the requirement to complete an evaluation of the Best Available Techniques (BAT) to prevent and, where that is not practicable, reduce emissions of noise, vibration and smoke associated with flaring.
- April 2018 : Final warning letters to both ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited.
- January to April 2019 : SEPA air quality monitoring programme undertaken.
- April 2019 : SEPA receives the Best Available Techniques (BAT) assessments from Shell UK Limited and ExxonMobil Chemical Limited.
- April 2019 : ExxonMobil Chemical Limited commits to the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare.
- August 2019 : Operating permit variations served on ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell U.K. Limited to require both operators to achieve ‘Best Available Techniques’ at Mossmorran.
- August 2019 : ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited each submitted environmental monitoring programmes.
- August 2019 : SEPA deploys monitoring network, at three locations around site and commences regular publication of reports concluding no significant impacts on local air quality.
- July 2020 : Submission of report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution in relation to the flaring at the Mossmorran complex during April 2019.
- April 2021 : £140m ExxonMobil Chemical Limited investment programme including installation of a noise reducing flare tip.
- 2022 : ExxonMobil commitment to complete the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare in 2022 which the company states will reduce the use of the elevated flare by 98%.