Flaring is into its fifth day at the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd facility at Mossmorran in Fife and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said it had received 600 complaints from members of the public reporting a chemical smell and rumbling noise.
ExxonMobil is blaming the flaring on a fault in a section of cable, which the oil and gas giant said is “very rare” and there was “no cause for concern in relation to air pollution and associated health.”
However, local residents were “living in fear” about the impact of the plant.
The company was served with final warning letters last year over a serious flaring incident which took place in June 2017, according to a report with the BBC. Then in June 2018, Sepa and the Health and Safety Executive said they would carry out an investigation into further incidents at the plant.
Chemical flaring is used to relieve pressure without simply pumping potentially dangerous chemicals into the environment.
It generally happens when a problem has arisen and gas which cannot be processed properly is burned.
Flaring can represent a large loss of otherwise valuable products and energy capacity.
The process is regarded by industry experts as an important safety mechanism and is permitted through certain conditions.
Sepa chief executive Terry A’Hearn said it was “working hard” to ensure ExxonMobil halted the latest flaring as quickly as possible.
“We have also launched this investigation into the incident,” he said. “The unprecedented number of complaints we have received is a clear message and it’s one that we have heard powerfully and clearly. The Mossmorran complex is a major industrial facility, where this type of flaring is a legitimate safety mechanism. But it’s been happening too often, and the current level and extent of the flaring from ExxonMobil Chemical Limited is unacceptable.”
Plant manager Jacob McAlister said in the BBC report the Fife Ethylene Plant was committed to working constructively with Sepa, and was already carrying out its own investigation.
“As Sepa acknowledges, flaring is an important and permitted safety mechanism,” he said.
“There is no cause for concern in relation to air pollution and associated heath – as confirmed by Sepa’s own monitoring.”
He said unplanned elevated flaring was “very rare” at the plant. “When elevated flaring occurs, we absolutely understand its impact on communities. As such, we will continue to strive to minimize impact by reducing unplanned events and duration. Our team is working day and night to safely bring the plant back to normal operations.”