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Latest updates

ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant planned shutdown

Wednesday 14 April

The planned temporary shutdown of ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant (FEP) Mossmorran is progressing. Elevated flaring began as planned just after 9 am on Monday morning (12 April) and stopped early evening. Flaring from FEP is now confined to ground flares.

Community members may have noticed a limited amount of elevated flaring from the complex Monday evening and yesterday morning. This was from the adjacent Shell U.K. Limited facility and is associated with its safe shutdown.

SEPA has had specialist regulatory and scientific staff deployed in local communities to carry out noise and odour assessments. Air quality monitoring is ongoing in four locations and continues to demonstrate no breach of air quality objectives. View the data covering the period of elevated flaring.

Terry A’Hearn, SEPA CEO, said:

“The planned, temporary shutdown of the Fife Ethylene Plant to allow for work to carry out planned maintenance and plant upgrades, including the installation of a low noise flare tip, appears to be progressing well with minimal disruption to the local community. SEPA is pleased to see the commencement of this £140m programme of work by ExxonMobil Chemical Limited which will significantly improve the reliability of the Fife Ethylene Plant, reducing the requirement for flaring and significantly reducing the community impact of flaring when it does occur.”

SEPA expects ExxonMobil to continue to keep the duration and rate of flaring as low as possible and the site has advised it will prioritise the use of the ground flares to minimise the impact on the community. Limited low-level elevated flaring may be visible from Shell U.K. Limited as its shutdown also progresses.

Members of the public who are concerned about a potential pollution issue should contact our pollution hotline using our online reporting form. This is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

SEPA statement on planned temporary shutdown of Fife Ethylene Plant

Tuesday 6 April

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is reassuring communities that it is fully engaged with ExxonMobil Chemical Limited following the operator’s community announcement that the site will begin its planned temporary shut down on 12 April.

 While the process will require planned elevated flaring during the first day, the agency is content that plans are in place to minimise the impacts on local residents and businesses. The shut down is required to carry out planned maintenance and plant upgrades, including the installation of a low noise flare tip.

 SEPA expects ExxonMobil to keep the duration and rate of flaring as low as possible and will have specialist regulatory and scientific staff deployed in local communities. Noise and air quality monitoring will also continue.

 Terry A’Hearn, SEPA CEO, said:

 “The work ExxonMobil Chemical Limited is beginning next week marks an important milestone on the site’s pathway to compliance. We have been clear that flaring, while an important safety feature of industrial facilities, will become the “exception rather than routine” and new infrastructure will help address the issues that cause most disturbance to local people.

 “The £140m upgrade of the ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant, together with SEPA’s ongoing stringent regulatory requirements and permit variations, will significantly improve the reliability of the Fife Ethylene Plant, reducing the requirement for flaring and significantly reducing the community impact of flaring when it does occur.”

Clear pathway to compliance For Mossmorran as watchdog strengthens regulation and monitoring of Fife sites

Irish Environmental Protection Agency Best Practice Review will lead to community participation in design of monitoring network, enhanced visibility of compliance & monitoring reports and new online regulatory hub

 Friday, 19 March 2021

  • A ‘clear pathway to compliance’ now exists for the Mossmorran industrial complex.
  • £140m upgrade of ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant to commence next month to improve site reliability.
  • Installation of a noise reducing flare tip this spring, with ExxonMobil committing to the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare in 2022 which the company states will reduce the use of the elevated flare by 98%.
  • The move follows Final Warning Letters, the submission of a report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution in July 2020 in relation to the flaring at the Mossmorran complex during April 2019 and a series of stringent regulatory requirements and permit variations on both operators requiring defined actions.
  • SEPA publishes Irish Environmental Protection Agency best practice review which will lead to community participation in the design of a site monitoring network, enhanced visibility of compliance and monitoring reports and a new online regulatory hub.
  • SEPA further commits to strengthen the regulation and monitoring of both sites across the investment period, with specialist monitoring, compliance, enforcement and support staff involved in work on the industrial complex.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has said there is now a ‘clear pathway to compliance’ for the Mossmorran industrial complex in Fife following years of unacceptable flaring.

A £140m upgrade of the ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant is to commence next month (April) to improve site reliability and reduce the impacts of flaring which SEPA has said must become the ‘exception rather than routine.’  The investment will see over 1,000 workers deliver over 300,000 hours of work as part of a major investment at the site.

The improvement programme will see the installation of a noise reducing flare tip this spring, with the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare that ExxonMobil has committed to install in 2022 which the company states will reduce the use of the elevated flare by 98%. 

The move follows Final Warning Letters in 2018, the submission of a report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution in July 2020 in relation to the flaring at the Mossmorran complex during April 2019 and a series of stringent regulatory requirements and permit variations on both operators requiring defined actions.

Taken together, the package will significantly improve the reliability of the ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant, reducing the requirement for flaring and significantly reducing the community impact of flaring when it does occur.

SEPA has specialist monitoring, compliance, enforcement and support staff involved in work on the industrial complex and the agency has committed to further strengthen the regulation and monitoring of both sites across the investment period in response to the agency’s peer review by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, published today.

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 Chemical Limited, the publication of ambient air quality monitoring reports and support for Fife Council’s review of community liaison structures.

From the recommendations of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency best practice review, some nine actions are already underway by SEPA, a further eight will be taken forward, one will be considered and two are rejected.  Key recommendations will see  SEPA’s programme of environmental monitoring extended with community participation in its design, enhanced visibility of regulatory monitoring results and investment in a refreshed online community information hub.

Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said:

“At SEPA we’ve 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.  Next month’s £140m investment programme by ExxonMobil, the installation of noise reducing flare tip followed by a new enclosed ground flare in 2022 are major milestones to compliance which will mean less flaring and less impact on communities on the occasions flaring is required in the future.

“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.  We welcome the report’s conclusions and recommendations and thank the independent Irish team for their work.  Whilst in most cases recommendations are already underway, we welcome further suggestions, with only a small number not appropriate in this instance.

“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.”

Laura Burke, Director General of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, said:

“The regulation of complex industrial facilities is important for the protection of communities and our environment and it is good practice for regulatory authorities to draw on each other’s expertise and to share experience.  Following our review, we have considerable confidence in SEPA’s approach to ensuring compliance at the Mossmorran complex. Our recommendations reflect that sharing of regulatory expertise and experience and it is clear that many of them are already being incorporated into SEPA’s approach or will be taken forward by the Agency.”

Key dates:

  • 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%.

Documents

  • Read the Irish Environment Protection Agency peer review of SEPA's Regulation of the PPC Permit for the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Installation. 

Irish EPA Review button

 

  • Read the SEPA response to the Irish Environment Protection Agency peer review of the Regulation of the PPC Permit for the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Installation.

SEPA response to Irish EPA peer review

Links

AirQualMossmorran

 

FAQs


How is SEPA regulating Mossmorran during the cyberattack?

For Mossmorran we will we continue to regulate robustly and this includes:

  • Work closely with the HSE as the Competent Authority under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations to continue to assure ourselves that both operators are taking appropriate steps to manage any risks that may arise from COVID-19 and EU Exit.
  • Continue to monitor noise and air quality across local communities.
  • Continue to work with the companies to deliver flaring improvements in the shortest possible timeframe. We continue to be in regular contact with both companies to monitor progress.
  • Review and follow up on complaints, but for the safety of our staff and others, we may not be able to visit or engage with members of the community in person. As our communications have been impacted we encourage people to use our web reporting tool. In addition, we will be unable to provide a personal response, as we would normally have done when complainants request to speak directly to a SEPA officer.
  • Continue to respond to any significant elevated flaring by deploying staff on the ground whilst maintaining physical distancing. However, as all our staff are working from home our response may not be as rapid as it would be normally.

Who is SEPA working with regarding Mossmorran?

The site is regulated by a number of organisations including the local authority, SEPA, and the Health and Safety Executive. We also consult with NHS Fife, Health Protection Scotland and Forth Ports in order to gain information and views to support our regulatory work.

You can see more about SEPA-specific regulatory activities under the section titled ‘Regulation’ above

What monitoring activity does SEPA undertake during flaring events?

Flaring events can vary from a few seconds, minutes or hours to days or even weeks. Some events are planned and some are unplanned and the root causes and impacts can vary significantly (i.e. the rate at which gas is flared, steam is managed and whether there is emission of dark smoke or not). Monitoring cannot be justified on all occasions and the focus for us as a regulator is on ensuring compliance and working with the companies at Mossmorran to minimise the need to flare and to reduce the impacts.

We are reviewing arrangements for monitoring these events both proactively and reactively. We will also review the monitoring undertaken by the company and if necessary we will require the company to undertake additional monitoring. We will engage with the local community to inform our view as to what is required.

Copies of our monitoring reports are available in the Useful documents section of our Mossmorran Hub.

Why do Shell UK and ExxonMobil Chemical Limited at Mossmorran need to flare?

The flares are part of the safety system and are used to burn off gas that cannot be processed safely due to the volumes involved or the gas being off specification. This might be due to scheduled maintenance requiring the plant to be ‘gas free’ prior to entry; or, following an unplanned operational interruption. The flare systems include:

  • two 80 metre high flares at Shell FNGL;
  • one 100 metre high flare at ExxonMobil FEP;
  • two ground flares which are operated by Shell FNGL but used by both sites as required.

How often do plants flare?

The number and type of flaring events varies year to year. These events can last just a few seconds and minutes to hours and days depending on the circumstances at the time. The primary reason for flaring is safety and events can be either planned or unplanned in nature. In years where there are more planned maintenance activities an increase in the number of flaring events can be expected.

To understand the frequency, type and duration of flaring events that occur, both operators at Mossmorran are required to provide an annual report to SEPA. A summary of the data provided to SEPA for the years 2008 to 2016 is available below (some additional comments have been taken from the Independent Air Quality Review Group reports):

This data is used as part of the regulatory controls applied by SEPA to both operators under their PPC permits. Flaring incidents must also be notified to SEPA and an incident report submitted (normally 1-2 pages in length) which SEPA then follows up directly with the relevant operator.

Under the Energy Act 1976 and Petroleum Act 1998, Shell are also required to have consents in place from the Oil and Gas Authority for flaring and venting of hydrocarbons.

What are the constituents of the flare?

The main constituents of the FEP flare are ethylene and/ or ethane. Other hydrocarbons may also be present as well as hydrogen, nitrogen and steam.

What restrictions are in place on flaring and why is the flare occasionally smoky?

ExxonMobil Chemical Limited at FEP and Shell UK at FNGL are permitted to flare for safety purposes. However, there are conditions in the PPC permits relating to flaring which aim to minimise community disturbance and pollution from flaring.

In general the visual and noise impact of flaring is minimised by using the ground flares; forward planning to maximise flaring during daylight hours; and, minimising the amount of material to be flared. However when the ground flares are not available, or the flow-rates are too great (e.g. in certain start-up or shutdown operations), then the elevated flare is also used.

Smoky flaring can be minimised by the addition of steam to optimise combustion. However, excessive steam addition can give rise to noise nuisance and must therefore be carefully managed.

Both the ground and elevated flares have restrictions on flaring in their PPC permit which prevent flaring of dark smoke for greater than 15 minutes.

Any major flaring resulting in burning of hydrocarbon above 5 tonnes per hour for a period of 30 minutes also requires 7 days prior notification to SEPA.

Any major flaring which is not notified in advance, requires the operator to follow the incident procedures in the PPC permit. This includes formal notification to SEPA without delay and a follow up investigation report within 14 days to confirm the causes of the flaring event, the environmental impact and measures to prevent a further flaring event due to similar causes.

What are the impacts to health of flaring?

A modelling study undertaken in 2009 assessed the impact of emissions during flaring and normal process emissions from Fife Ethylene Plant and Fife Natural Gas Liquids plant at Mossmorran, both separately and in combination.

The following pollutants were assessed:

  • carbon monoxide (CO);
  • oxides of nitrogen (NOx as NO2);
  • fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5);
  • sulphur dioxide (SO2); 
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene and 1, 3 butadiene.

The study concluded that the long and short term predicted environmental concentrations of all of the pollutants considered were well within the air quality standards for the protection of human health.

The modelling work supports the findings of an earlier ambient monitoring study undertaken by FEP to assess emissions of VOCs and fine particulate matter (PM10) between 21 August 2008 and 1 October 2008.

The study was carried out by an independent contractor, The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and all the data was submitted to the Air Quality Monitoring Review Group for independent analysis. This included a period of elevated flaring on 5 and 6 September 2008 during which specific VOC samples were collected.

Measured concentrations of PM10, benzene and 1,3 butadiene were all within the relevant air quality standards for the protection of human health.

What responsibilities do SEPA have regarding air quality?

Local authorities have a statutory duty to review and assess local air quality in their area against the air quality objectives for various pollutants (including benzene) that are in-place to protect human health. These air quality objectives are contained within the National Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which was last updated in 2007.

We have a statutory responsibility to ensure that regulated processes do not result in, or contribute to, an exceedence of European air quality objectives.

What is the impact to health of emissions from the Mossmorran Complex?

We are currently satisfied that the emissions from the Mossmorran complex are not having a detrimental impact on air quality in the local communities. Several modelling and monitoring studies have shown that the concentrations of benzene and other pollutants are currently well below the air quality objectives at local residential areas. This conclusion is backed up by the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Independent Air Monitoring Review Group referred to above.

What is the impact of Little Raith Wind Farm on the air emissions from Mossmorran?

Ambient monitoring was undertaken at Little Raith Farm, Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath between January 2011 and March 2013 by the wind farm developer Kennedy Renewables. The monitoring results indicate that Little Raith Wind farm is having no negative impact on the dispersion of air emissions from Mossmorran. Measured concentrations of benzene following the commissioning of the wind farm in September 2013 were no higher than the concentrations measured prior to installation, and were consistent with typical rural background levels.

A final report on the monitoring undertaken by the wind-farm developer, Kennedy Renewables was published in January 2014.

We published the report -  Impact of Little Raith Windfarm on air emissions from Mossmorran.