The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has announced its intention to seek a prosecution over unplanned flaring that took place at the Mossmorran chemical plant in Fife.
In April last year, the regulator’s Pollution Hotline received a record 900 public complaints after a flare at the site burned for six days.
Flames from the flare could be seen as far away as Edinburgh, and residents have raised concerns about noise and light pollution, as well as palpable vibrations caused by the incident.
The latest action by SEPA follows a 2018 ‘Final Warning Letter’ issued to the plant’s operators after another flaring incident at Mossmorran in 2017.
And in August 2019, ExxonMobil and Shell UK, which share operations at the ethylene
plant, were forced to apologise to residents when a mechanical failure with two of its three boilers led to further unplanned flaring.
The regulator said it will now submit a final report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration of prosecution.
Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of SEPA, called on ExxonMobil to address the root-causes of “unacceptable flaring”, and insisted that compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws was “simply non-negotiable”.
In a statement, Mr A’Hearn said: “Over a number of years, communities across Fife have repeatedly endured unplanned flaring.
“Whilst flaring is an important safety mechanism of such facilities, it must become the exception, rather than routine.
“People rightly expect that their lives won’t be impacted by nearby industrial processes and yet again, over an extended period during Easter 2019, communities were impacted by unacceptable and preventable flaring.
“Today we’ve announced a series of important steps and a pathway to compliance at Mossmorran. We’ve been clear with both operators on what we and the community expect and have outlined the steps they need to take to make this happen.”
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said: “Having only received the communication from SEPA late this evening, we will now take the time to fully consider its content.
“Wherever we operate, we comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations.”
Environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and Fife MSP, Mark Ruskell, called SEPA’s decision “very welcome”, and said: “I also heard from so many constituents during this time, families who endured six days of hell and more since, so I’m relieved that their voices have been heard and action taken.
“If we are serious about the health and wellbeing of our communities, we need this kind of rigour from our environmental watchdog.”
In September last year, the multinational oil and gas giant pledged £140 million to reduce flaring at the Fife plant.
It said at the time that upgrades to key infrastructure at Mossmorran would "significantly improve operational reliability and performance".
The plant began operations in 1985, and has a production capacity of more than 800,000 tonnes of ethylene a year.
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