The flaring is into its fifth day at the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd facility.
The move by SEPA follows ‘Final Warning Letters’ issued to ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd in April last year regarding flaring which was found to be “preventable and unacceptable”.
SEPA said it had received an “unprecedented” 600 complaints from members of the public reporting a chemical smell and rumbling noise - one of the highest number for any single event.
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It follows SEPA and Health and Safety Executive investigations in 2018/2019, a tightening of permit conditions and an instruction to conduct a ‘Best Available Technologies’ (BAT) assessment, due shortly.
ExxonMobil has blamed the flaring on a fault in a section of cable.
Terry A’Hearn, SEPA’s CEO, said: “Every day, SEPA works to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment and compliance with Scotland’s environmental rules is simply non-negotiable.
“In addition to working hard to ensure ExxonMobil brings a halt to the flaring as quickly as possible, we have also launched this investigation into the incident.
“The unprecedented number of complaints we have received is a clear message and it’s one that we have heard powerfully and clearly.
“I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to help us understand the impacts of this flaring, and I encourage people to continue to report to us.
“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 the Fife Ethylene Plant was committed to working constructively with SEPA, and was already carrying out its own investigation.
He said as SEPA acknowledges, flaring is an important and permitted safety mechanism and that there is no cause for concern in relation to air pollution and associated heath - as confirmed by SEPA’s own monitoring.
Mr McAlister said unplanned elevated flaring was very rare at the plant.
But he added: “When elevated flaring occurs, we absolutely understand its impact on communities. As such, we will continue to strive to minimise impact by reducing unplanned events and duration.
“Our team is working day and night to safely bring the plant back to normal operations.”