Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response

Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay complexes

Mossmorran Hub

Report pollution  Sign up to SEPA's Mossmorran newsletter

Page contents

Latest updates

SEPA has been notified about planned maintenance activity at Shell Fife NGL Plant from Tuesday 23 June – Thursday 25 June 2020

Please read the operator’s Community Notice for more information.

SEPA understands the maintenance work will mean ground flares at the Mossmorran complex will be temporarily unavailable but that the activity has been coordinated with neighbouring Fife Ethylene Plant and elevated flaring is not anticipated during the works period.

SEPA will be in close contact with Fife NGL and Fife Ethylene Plant, air quality and noise monitoring will continue around the complex and SEPA field staff will remain on standby throughout.

More information, including contact details for Shell Fife NGL, is provided in the Community Notice. 

 

SEPA to submit a report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration of prosecution over Mossmorran flaring

SEPA has announced its intention to submit a report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration of prosecution in relation to the flaring the Mossmorran complex during April 2019. The report will be submitted shortly which follows unplanned flaring over a seven day period in April 2019 and an extensive regulatory investigation involving specialist regulatory, technical, scientific and enforcement teams from across the agency.

Over 900 complaints were received by our Pollution Hotline, the highest number the agency has received for any single environmental event. The move also follows a 2018 ‘Final Warning Letter’ issued to ExxonMobil Chemical Limited for a 2017 ‘preventable and unacceptable’ flaring incident.

Announcing a package of new measures, we’re confirmed a detailed technical assessment of the timelines for new ground flare installations by ExxonMobil Chemical Limited including utilising independent technical advisor(s) to verify the proposed programme.

The actions of ExxonMobil Chemical Limited continue to be under continual review during the current coronavirus pandemic with an intensified compliance programme to focus on the steps the company is taking to prevent and minimise flaring.

We are working closely with the Health and Safety Executive which has responsibility for site safety as part of the Competent Authority under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations.Our focus remains on ensuring the company addresses the root causes of unacceptable flaring.

We have published 39 scientific monitoring reports online, with these continuing to be published on a fortnightly basis on our sepa.org.uk/mossmorran hub. Published data continues to demonstrate no breach of UK air quality standards.

We’re also announcing an external review by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency of regulation to share best practice and advise on further actions that may be taken to drive compliance. The review will report by October 2020.

Recognising the requirement to strengthen arrangements for community engagement, we are actively supporting Fife Council’s review of ​the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Community and Safety Committee aimed at refreshing community ​participation and engagement around the Mossmorran complex. We are also confirming that we are collaborating with Fife Council to review monitoring with input from local communities and other public partners as soon as is safely practical to do so.

Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of SEPA, said:

“Compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is simply non-negotiable. 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. The incident resulted in over 900 complaints to our Pollution Hotline, the highest number we’ve received for any single environmental event.

“Consequently, following an extensive investigation into the flaring at Mossmorran during April 2019, we intend to shortly submit a report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration of prosecution.

“It’s right that we take enforcement action for the Easter 2019 flaring event.  What is just as important is that ExxonMobil Chemical Limited address the root-causes of ‘unacceptable 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. Whilst flaring will continue to be required, this must become the exception rather than routine. We’ll keep a firm focus on compliance, monitoring and the package of measures required over the period ahead and we’ll keep local communities informed at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran”

REGULATION OF MOSSMORRAN DURING COVID-19:

We have published our SEPA COVID-19 Philosophy and overarching guidance on regulation during COVID-19

For Mossmorran we will:

  • Work closely with the HSE as the Competent Authority under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations to continue to assure ourselves that ExxonMobil is taking appropriate steps to manage any risks that may arise from COVID-19.

  • Continue our robust regulation and assessment of the site.  Whilst SEPA’s Compliance Assessment Scheme (CAS) cannot practically be applied during the 2020 calendar year, this will not limit or inhibit our compliance work or have an impact on our ability to take action should non-compliance issues arise.

  • Focus our compliance work on those conditions where non-compliance may lead to a risk of impact on local communities and the environment, for example, the condition that requires that ExxonMobil must ensure that all appropriate preventative measures are taken against noise and vibration emissions through the application of BAT and ensure that no significant pollution is caused. 

  • Continue to monitor noise and air quality across local communities and we have upgraded our monitors so that we are able to download all data remotely.  Air quality monitoring results published fortnightly at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran.

  • Continue to focus on delivery of flaring improvements in the shortest possible timeframe.

  • Review and follow up on to 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 staffing levels 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.

ExxonMobil Chemical Limited unplanned flaring update - Wednesday 4 March 2020

Chris Dailly, SEPA's Head of Environmental Performance, said:

“Having been in regular contact with ExxonMobil Chemical Limited over the last day, SEPA has been notified that normal operations have now resumed, and elevated flaring has ceased.

“Our officers have continued to deploy air and noise monitoring during this period of unplanned flaring, and initial data suggests no breach of UK Air Quality Standards.

“As we’ve stated, we’re disappointed that flaring occurred again so soon after the restart.

“Whilst recognising that flaring is an important safety mechanism, this is a further reminder of why the short and medium term steps being taken by SEPA to require the operator to mitigate flaring is so critical, including noise-reducing flare tips in 2020/21 and bringing forward plans for fully enclosed ground flares.

“We remain focused on the rapid conclusion of our current criminal investigation into unplanned flaring to an evidential standard.”

  • Mossmorran falls under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015, which are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and SEPA.
  • Regulatory, noise and air monitoring continues across local communities.
  • 31 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, available at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran
  • SEPA focused on rapid conclusion of criminal investigation to an evidential standard.
  • A reminder of why short and medium term solutions are so critical.
  • Noise reducing flare tips to be introduced in 2020 and 2021 and planning, design then delivery of new ground flare capacity afterwards.
  • SEPA's approach will address the investment required to end ‘unacceptable flaring.’
  • Follow @ScottishEPA and @exxonmobil_fep for updates.
  • It’s important we understand community impacts. 
  • Please report pollution via our 24 Hour Pollution Hotline at www.sepa.org.uk/report

ExxonMobil Chemical Limited unplanned flaring - 17.30 Tuesday 3 March 2020

At circa 14:56 today (3 March 2020) SEPA was notified by ExxonMobil Chemical Limited of unplanned, elevated flaring at the Mossmorran complex. Officers have sought an immediate update from site and understand flaring is a result of a trip of one of the site’s major compressors. Initial reports suggest elevated flaring may continue overnight as the company works towards a safe re-start.

SEPA officers are responding and air and noise monitoring continues to be deployed.  

Chris Dailly, Head of Environmental Performance, said:

“Having been clear that flaring must become the exception rather than routine, we’re disappointed that flaring by ExxonMobil Chemical Limited has occurred again so soon after the restart. Officers made immediate contact with the company and we understand that the flaring relates to a trip of a major compressor. In understanding that flaring is likely to continue overnight as the site moves to a safe re-start, officers will continue to deploy and air and noise monitoring continues.

“SEPA is requiring a detailed briefing on the nature of the current incident and we expect the company to provide timely updates to the community. Whilst recognising that flaring is an important safety mechanism, this is a further reminder of why the short and medium term steps being taken by SEPA to mitigate flaring is so critical, including noise-reducing flare tips in 2020/21 and bringing forward plans for fully enclosed ground flares.”

  • Mossmorran falls under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015, which are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and SEPA.
  • Regulatory, noise and air monitoring continues across local communities.
  • 31 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, available at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran
  • SEPA focused on rapid conclusion of criminal investigation to an evidential standard.
  • A reminder of why short and medium term solutions are so critical.
  • Noise reducing flare tips to be introduced in 2020 and 2021 and planning, design then delivery of new ground flare capacity afterwards.
  • SEPA's approach will address the investment required to end ‘unacceptable flaring.’
  • Follow @ScottishEPA and @exxonmobil_fep for updates.
  • Its important we understand community impacts. 
  • Please report pollution via our 24 Hour Pollution Hotline at www.sepa.org.uk/report

Planned flaring at Shell U.K. Limited - 3 March 2020

SEPA has been informed by Shell U.K. Limited that there will be a short period of low-level elevated flaring as part of equipment testing at the Mossmorran Complex on Tuesday 3 March.

The flaring, which is expected to last around 30 minutes, is an essential part of the ongoing investment to reduce the impacts of flaring on local communities when it is required. The equipment being tested was identified as a direct consequence of the 2018 requirement from SEPA that both companies conduct comprehensive technical assessments to ensure they were using ‘Best Available Techniques’. 

If successful this will enable Shell U.K. Limited to accurately monitor flare performance and steam control. Noise reducing flare tips are to be installed by the operators within the following timescales:

  • ExxonMobil Chemical Limited in 2020
  • Shell U.K. Limited in 2021

We expect Shell U.K Limited to keep the duration and rate of flaring as low as possible during this testing. Our air quality monitoring equipment continues to be deployed across local communities and we will keep publishing our weekly air quality monitoring reports at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran

Communities can continue to report any concerns via our 24 Hour Pollution Hotline at www.sepa.org.uk/report or on 0800 80 70 60.

Fri 14 Feb 2020 : ‘Unplanned flaring’ during Mossmorran restart a reminder of why short and medium term solution critical say's SEPA

  • While elevated flaring is a possibility during restart it was not expected last night.
  • Early indications that the near four hours of flaring was a result of a problem with one of the process units and reduced capacity of ground flares.
  • SEPA understands restart likely to continue into the weekend and we will continue daily regulatory updates.
  • SEPA hears clearly the level of community anxiety caused by Thursday night’s flaring event.
  • Regulatory, noise and air monitoring continues across local communities.
  • Initial data suggests no breach of UK Air Quality Standard.
  • 28 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, available at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran
  • SEPA focused on rapid conclusion of regulatory investigation to an evidential standard.
  • Thursday night flaring to be reviewed following outcome of current investigation.
  • A reminder of why short and medium term solutions are so critical.
  • Noise reducing flare tips to be introduced in 2020 and 2021 and planning, design then delivery of new ground flare capacity afterwards.
  • SEPA's approach will address the investment required to end ‘unacceptable flaring.’
  • Follow @ScottishEPA and @exxonmobil_fep for updates.
  • Its important we understand community impacts. 
  • Please report pollution via our 24 Hour Pollution Hotline at www.sepa.org.uk/report

‘Unplanned flaring’ during ExxonMobil Chemical Limited’s Mossmorran restart is a reminder of why short and medium term solution are critical to addressing ‘unacceptable flaring’ said the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) today (Friday 14th February 2020).

SEPA advised that early indications suggested that the near four hours of flaring was a result of a problem with one of the process units and reduced capacity of ground flares.  The agency understands the restart is likely to continue into the weekend and SEPA advised it will continue daily regulatory updates.

The agency, which had regulatory, noise and air monitoring capabilities deployed across the incident, said it heard clearly the level of community anxiety caused by Thursday night’s flaring event.

Initial data collected by the agency suggests no breach of UK Air Quality Standard.  28 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, available at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran

SEPA said it was focused on the rapid conclusion of its ongoing regulatory investigation to an evidential standard and that to avoid any delay, Thursday night’s flaring would be reviewed following outcome of current investigation.

The agency advised that the situation was a reminder of why short and medium term solutions are so critical.  The approach includes noise reducing flare tips being installed in 2020 and 2021 and planning, design then delivery of new ground flare capacity afterwards.

Chris Dailly, SEPA Senior Manager, Compliance & Beyond, said:

“Thursday’s unplanned flaring during ExxonMobil Chemical’s restart at Mossmorran is a real reminder of why short and medium term solutions are critical to addressing the root causes of unacceptable flaring.

“While elevated flaring is a possibility during restart it was not expected last night.  Once again we heard clearly and powerfully the very real concerns and frustrations of local communities.

“We think it’s important to be clear on the causes of the flaring in the final stage of this restart.  We know people also want information on our monitoring.  Since last year SEPA has had monitoring points around the site.  Initial data suggests that whilst clearly there was elevated flaring, there was no breach of UK Air Quality Standard.  We publish the data we collect on a weekly basis and now some 28 detailed reports are available.

“We accept that flaring is causing people worry, anxiety and stress.  That’s why our firm focus is on addressing the root-causes of ‘unacceptable flaring’ and making flaring an exception rather than routine, which is currently not the case. The short and medium-term investment we’re requiring the operators to make, from noise reducing flare tips in 2020 and 2021 and planning, designing then delivering new ground flare capacity will make a real difference to local communities.

“We appreciate communities want action, not words which is why we’re focused on rapid conclusion of regulatory investigation to an evidential standard and to the next steps in driving systemic change at Mossmorran.  We’ll provide more information as quickly as possible and would encourage anyone impacted to report any concerns at www.sepa.org.uk/report so these are formally reviewed and considered by specialist officers.“

00:00 Hrs - Fri 14 Feb 2020 Flaring Update

  • With no indication of enhanced elevated flaring during our daily regulatory update, officers have this evening sought to establish the situation with the operator.
  • SEPA understands from ExxonMobil Chemical Limited that following the planned restart, there was a requirement to utilise both the ground flares and enhanced elevated flaring. 
  • We have been advised this has now ceased and will receive a full update tomorrow morning as part of our daily regulatory brief.
  • We'll provide a further update as soon as possible.
  • Our regulatory, noise and air monitoring continues across local communities.
  • To date air quality has remained within UK Air Quality Standard.
  • 28 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, available at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran
  • SEPA's regulatory investigation is in final stages.
  • SEPA's approach is also addressing the investment required to end ‘unacceptable flaring.’
  • Follow @ScottishEPA and @exxonmobil_fep for updates.
  • Its important we understand community impacts. 
  • Please report pollution via our 24 Hour Pollution Hotline at www.sepa.org.uk/report

23:00 Hrs - Thu 13 Feb 2020 Flaring Update

  • We're aware of fluctuations in the elevated flare at Mossmorran.
  • Officers are in contact with the site to understand the current position and will provide an update as quickly as possible.
  • ExxonMobil Chemical Limited had confirmed that the restart in ‘final stage' and to expect fluctuations as part of the restart.
  • SEPA regulatory, noise and air monitoring continues across local communities.
  • To date air quality has remained within UK Air Quality Standard.
  • 28 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, available at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran
  • SEPA regulatory investigation in final stages.
  • SEPA approach also addressing the investment required to end ‘unacceptable flaring’.
  • The short and medium-term investment we’re requiring the operators to make, from noise reducing flare tips in 2020 and 2021 and planning, designing then delivering new ground flare capacity will make a real difference to local communities.
  • It's important we understand local impacts. Please continue to report pollution via our 24 Hour Pollution Hotline at www.sepa.org.uk/report
  • Follow @ScottishEPA and @exxonmobil_fep for updates.

Mossmorran restart in 'final stage' as SEPA's twin-track approach addresses the investment required to end 'unacceptable flaring'

  • ExxonMobil Chemical Limited confirms Mossmorran restart in ‘final stage.’
  • Elevated flaring ‘may fluctuate in size.’
  • SEPA regulatory, noise and air monitoring continues across local communities.
  • Air quality remains within UK Air Quality Standard.
  • 28 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, available at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran
  • SEPA is clear that all steps must be taken to minimise impacts on communities.
  • SEPA approach also addressing the investment required to end ‘unacceptable flaring.’
  • Follow @ScottishEPA and @exxonmobil_fep for updates.

The Mossmorran restart has now entered its ‘next and final stage’ SEPA was advised yesterday evening (Monday 10 February 2020) by ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd.

In an update issued by the company, the business stated that work had begun to re-start distillation towers, a ‘final stage’ of the process. The company advised that the elevated flare would fluctuate in size as each tower comes online and starts processing gas.

Specialist officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) are continuing daily regulatory updates with the operator and are clear that all steps must continue to be taken to minimise impacts on communities.

SEPA regulatory, noise and air monitoring continues across local communities and SEPA’s published air quality reports have confirmed that air quality remains within UK Air Quality Standards. The agency has published 28 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, available at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran

SEPA’s approach is also addressing the investment required to end ‘unacceptable flaring.’ 

SEPA expects investment in noise-reducing flare tips and fully enclosed ground flare technologies at Mossmorran and that these will significantly reduce the impact on the rare occasions when flaring is necessary.

Noise reducing flare tips are to be installed by the operators within the following timescales:

  • ExxonMobil Chemical Limited in 2020
  •  Shell U.K. Limited in 2021

ExxonMobil Chemical Limited has committed to optimising timescales to install new ground flares - which will significantly address impacts from flaring as part of a £140 million investment. Shell U.K. Limited has recently submitted a project for their future use of ground flares.

Wendy Thornton, SEPA Senior Manager, Compliance & Beyond, said:

“We’ve said clearly that compliance with Scotland’s environmental rules is simply non-negotiable. Specialist teams have been working round-the-clock to monitor the restart and ensure the company is taking all steps to minimise impacts on communities.

“Our published monitoring has confirmed that air quality remains within UK Air Quality Standard and we’ve now published 28 SEPA Air Quality Reports, including weekly reports, at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran

“People will rightly welcome an end being in sight for the restart. That said, we hear clearly calls for an end to the ongoing disturbance this industrial facility is causing.  That’s why we’re working to address the root-causes of ‘unacceptable flaring’ and making flaring an exception rather than routine. The short and medium-term investment we’re requiring the operators to make, from noise reducing flare tips in 2020 and 2021 and planning, designing then delivering new ground flare capacity will make a real difference to local communities.

“We’ll ensure local people have the latest information, via SEPA’s social media channels, local media and our next community newsletter.

“Communities can continue to report any concerns via our 24 Hour Pollution Hotline at www.sepa.org.uk/report or on 0800 80 70 60.”

Re-start updates

Restart update: Friday 6 February 2020

We’re continuing our twin-track approach of monitoring the responsible restart of the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd facility whilst addressing the root causes of ‘unacceptable flaring’.

Specialist officers will continue to be deployed in local communities across the weekend.

We continue to review the restart on a daily basis with the business.

Check @exxonmobil_fep for operational updates.

Restart update: Thursday 5 February 2020

As ExxonMobil Chemical Limited continues to progress the responsible restart of its Mossmorran plant, our specialist staff will again be in local communities today to monitor any impacts on local residents.

SEPA’s daily regulatory brief with the operator will remain in place this week as part of our twin-track approach - as we continue to drive change to address the root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring.

Some elevated flaring has been experienced, as advised by the operator on social media. Follow @exxonmobil_fep for operational updates.

Restart update: Monday 3 February 2020

SEPA’s daily regulatory brief with the ExxonMobil Chemical Limited continued over the weekend, and will remain in place this week as part of our monitoring of the site’s restart,

Our specialist staff will be in local communities throughout the week as part of our twin-track approach - as we also drive change to address the root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring.

Some elevated flaring was experienced over the weekend, as advised by the operator on social media. Follow  @exxonmobil_fep for operational updates.

Restart update: Thursday 30 January 2020

SEPA is continuing to monitor the restart of ExxonMobil Chemical Limited’s plant. This is part of our twin-track approach as we also drive change to address the root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring.

Our daily regulatory brief with ExxonMobil Chemical Limited confirms the restart is going as planned, with elevated flaring being minimised as much as possible.

Check @exxonmobil_fep for operational updates.

Restart update: Tuesday 28 January 2020

Specialist officers continue to monitor the restart as part of our twin-track approach including driving change to address the root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring.

Our daily regulatory brief with ExxonMobil Chemical Limited confirms the restart is going as planned, with elevated flaring being minimised as much as possible.

Restart update: Monday 27 January 2020

We’re continuing to closely monitor the responsible re-start of ExxonMobil Chemical Limited’s facility on a daily basis. To date the restart is going as planned, with elevated flaring being minimised as much as possible.

SEPA will continue its twin-track approach of monitoring the restart whilst addressing the root causes of ‘unacceptable flaring’. Specialist officers will continue to be deployed across the week.

Restart update: Sunday 26 January 2020

With ExxonMobil Chemical Limited having begun the use of the elevated flare as part of the re-start, SEPA is continuing its twin-track approach of monitoring the responsible restart whilst addressing the root causes of 'unacceptable flaring'.

Specialist officers continue to be deployed across the restart.

Restart update: Saturday 25 January 2020

We're continuing our twin-track approach of monitoring the responsible restart of the ExxonMobil Chemical Limited facility whilst addressing the root causes of 'unacceptable flaring'.

Specialist officers were deployed overnight and will work across the restart. We are reviewing the restart on a daily basis with the business.

Check @exxonmobil_fep for operational updates.

SEPA continues its twin-track approach to ExxonMobil – ongoing monitoring whilst working to address root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring - 24 January 2020

SEPA continues its twin-track approach to ExxonMobil – ongoing monitoring whilst working to address root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring - 24 January 2020

  • SEPA confirms the continuation of its twin-track approach to ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd –ongoing monitoring whilst driving change to address the root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring.
  • Public partners have been working closely together on the restart.
  • SEPA will monitor the planned restart of ExxonMobil’s Mossmorran facility – with a deployment of air quality, noise and regulatory monitoring.
  • SEPA is clear that all steps must be taken to minimise impacts on communities.
  • Follow @ScottishEPA and @exxonmobil_fep for updates.
  • SEPA will continue to publish monitoring information as quickly as possible on social media and sepa.org.uk/mossmorran.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) today (Friday 24 January 2020), confirmed the continuation of its ‘twin-track’ approach to the responsible restart of ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd’s Mossmorran facility in Fife.

With the agency having regular contact with the operator regarding its planned restart, SEPA confirmed it stands ready with a deployment of air quality, noise and regulatory monitoring.  

Whilst more than twenty reports from the agency continue to confirm no breaches of air quality standards due to flaring at Mossmorran, SEPA is continuing its deployment of air quality monitoring in multiple locations surrounding the site.  Locations in Lochgelly, Auchtertool and Donibristle, upwind and downwind of the complex, ensure that SEPA can monitor in local communities and take account of changes in wind direction. Full air quality reports are published at sepa.org.uk/mossmorran.

The agency has also deployed noise monitoring in Lochgelly and a residential location to the South East of the site, with additional responsive mobile monitoring to be deployed if required.  Noise monitoring data associated with our regulatory investigation cannot be published at this time.

SEPA has previously confirmed air quality monitoring will stay in place whilst the recently announced investments are made at Mossmorran. SEPA is also working alongside partner agencies with air quality responsibilities to assess future requirements.

The agency also confirmed progress in driving change to address the root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring including requiring noise-reducing flare tips and fully enclosed ground flare technologies to be installed that will significantly reduce the impact on the rare future occasions when flaring is necessary.

Rob Morris, SEPA Senior Manager, Compliance & Beyond, said:

“We’re clear that compliance with Scotland’s environmental rules is simply non-negotiable.  That’s why we’re continuing our twin-track approach to ExxonMobil.  In addition to continuing our monitoring across the responsible restart of the facility, we’re firmly focused on addressing the root causes of ‘unacceptable’ flaring.

“People rightly expect that their lives won’t be impacted by nearby industrial processes. In addition to requiring ExxonMobil Chemicals Limited and Shell U.K. Limited to install noise reducing flare tips, we’re finalising proposals requiring new ground flare capacity that will be planned, designed, built and safely integrated in the shortest period possible.

“Public partners have been working closely together regarding the restart. With regulatory, air quality and noise monitoring officers working to ensure a responsible and reliable restart, we’ll provide regular updates and publish monitoring information as quickly as possible on social media and sepa.org.uk/mossmorran. Useful information is also available via ExxonMobil Chemical Limited’s Mossmorran’s social media. Anyone who is concerned about pollution can use SEPA’s online reporting tool at sepa.org.uk/report, available around the clock.”

Regulatory investigation in final stages
On Thursday 25 April 2019 the SEPA announced a formal regulatory investigation into the unacceptable flaring from the ExxonMobil Chemical Limited site in Fife that started on Sunday 21 April.

The investigation is now in the final stages. A small number of interviews remain to be conducted and a further update will be provided when complete.

Operating permit variations
SEPA has served a series of permit variations to lock in compliance at Mossmorran and reduce flaring impacts. The operating permit variations served on ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell U.K. Limited have required both operators to achieve ‘Best Available Techniques’ in the shortest timeframe possible.

The variations will require investments in equipment that reduces the impacts of flaring on local communities when flaring is necessary. Flaring, an important safety feature of industrial facilities, will become the “exception rather than routine” and new infrastructure will address the issues that cause most disturbance to local people.

New infrastructure
SEPA expects investment in noise-reducing flare tips and fully enclosed ground flare technologies at Mossmorran and that these will significantly reduce the impact on the rare occasions when flaring is necessary.

Noise reducing flare tips are to be installed by the operators within the following timescales:

  • ExxonMobil Chemical Limited in 2020
  •  Shell U.K. Limited in 2021

ExxonMobil Chemical Limited has committed to optimising timescales to install new ground flares - which will significantly address impacts from flaring. SEPA welcomes the £140 million investment announced by ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and the assurances that reliability and performance will improve.

Shell U.K. Limited must provide SEPA with a project plan by the end of January 2020 for their future use of ground flares. SEPA is currently reviewing the detailed plans for the installation of ground flares that were received from ExxonMobil Chemical Limited at the end of October 2019.

Previous updates

Previous updates, arranged by year, are available on our previous updates page.

Useful documents

Air Quality Monitoring Reports

SEPA 2019/2020 restart monitoring summary

Ongoing monitoring reports

 2020

2019

Event reports

Three month monitoring reports

BAT Assessments

Final Warning Letters

Permit Variations

Community leaflet

Mossmorran newsletter

SEPA is committed to keeping the local communities around Mossmorran informed. Sign up to our newsletter to be emailed the latest updates.

Read the latest on the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay complexes

You can read previous Mossmorran newsletters online

Mossmorran Complex investigation update - 27 February 2019

SEPA has completed its investigation into a number of unplanned flaring events at the Mossmorran Complex during 2017 and 2018.

Whilst flaring is an important safety mechanism and is permitted through permit conditions, the impact of any flaring events must be mitigated so as not to have an unacceptable impact on local communities.

SEPA remains clear that the flaring in June 2017 was both preventable and unacceptable and Final Warning Letters were issued to ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Ltd in that regard. Communities experienced further unplanned flaring in October 2017, March 2018 and again in May 2018.

Read the full Mossmorran Complex investigation update

 

Site activities

Shell UK operates the Fife Natural Gas Liquids (FNGL) Mossmorran Fractionation Plant near Cowdenbeath in Fife that extracts natural gasoline, ethane, propane and butane from natural gas liquids pumped from the St Fergus gas plant at Peterhead. Three identical processes separate the different components.

Ethane is forwarded to the adjacent ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant (FEP), Mossmorran where it is converted into ethylene by steam cracking.

The products from both sites are transported by pipeline or road tanker, predominantly to the Shell UK Limited and ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Braefoot Bay marine terminal on the Firth of Forth near Aberdour in Fife, where it is shipped. Some of the ethylene produced is distributed via the UK ethylene pipeline to other manufacturing plants in the UK.

Regulation

Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 (PPC)

Shell UK Fife NGL and ExxonMobil Chemical Limited FEP at Mossmorran and ExxonMobil Chemical Limited at Braefoot Bay are regulated under the PPC. The regulations permit and regulate many industrial activities that may pollute our environment. Licences, known as permits, set strict conditions that must be met to prevent or reduce any impact on the environment. For FNGL and FEP at Mossmorran the PPC Permits include specific conditions on flaring including a requirement to provide an incident report for any significant unplanned flaring. Similar licences are in place for ExxonMobil Chemical Limited at Braefoot Bay although these are less complex. We carry out regular inspections of both facilities and reviews monitoring and other returns to check compliance.

Annual compliance is also assessed using our Compliance Assessment Scheme and the results published on our website. For Mossmorran sites search under ‘Fife Ethylene Plant’ or ‘Fife NGL Plant’; and for Braefoot Bay search under ‘ExxonMobil Chemical Limited’.

Control of Major Accident Hazard (COMAH) Regulations 1999

The Shell UK and Exxon Mobil Chemical Limited Sites at Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay also fall under the COMAH Regulations which are jointly regulated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and SEPA as the Competent Authority. Qualifying sites are divided into Lower Tier and Top Tier sites based on quantities of dangerous substances held on the site.

The Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay sites are classed as Upper Tier sites due to the quantities of highly flammable substances present. As such they must submit a Safety Report every five years which demonstrates the implementation of safety management systems to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences to people and the environment.

Further information on COMAH is available on the Health and Safety Executive website

In addition to carrying out routine regular inspections under both PPC and COMAH, SEPA has a duty to carry out investigations into incidents under both regulatory regimes. SEPA focus on the environmental aspects of incidents although there is often an overlap with safety aspects considered under COMAH by the HSE.

Air quality and SEPA position statement

Extensive air quality monitoring has demonstrated that concentrations of benzene and other hydrocarbons are consistently low in the vicinity of the facilities at Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay.

There was local concern over the perceived impact of the Little Raith Wind Farm on the dispersion of air emissions from the Mossmorran complex during normal operation and flaring. Concentrations of benzene measured in the vicinity of the plant were low throughout 2012 and are similar to those you would expect to find in a typical rural setting. The concentrations were well below the Air Quality Standards before and after the turbines came into operation.

We have published the following position statement.

Community liaison

We participate in the following external meetings with other organisations:

  • Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Community and Safety Committee
    These community liaison meetings are held once a quarter and are attended by local councillors, representatives from local community councils, SEPA, ExxonMobil Chemical Limited, Shell UK and Fife Council. The minutes of the meetings should be made publically available to members of local communities through community council meetings, local libraries and the Fife Direct webpage.

  • Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Independent Air Quality Monitoring Review Group
    The Mossmorran & Braefoot Bay Independent Air Quality Monitoring (IAQM) Review Group advises Fife Council regarding the quality of ambient air associated with air emissions from operations at the Mossmorran plants and the Braefoot Bay terminal facilities.

Of particular relevance are issues relating to any health concerns raised by residents within the local communities and a key role is assisting with the communication of information relating to environmental air quality. The IAQM Review Group is independently chaired and includes representatives from Fife Health Board, SEPA, Fife Council, the Institute of Occupational Medicine and community representatives. The Group meet twice per year and publishes an annual report which is available from the Fife Direct webpage.

Incidents, complaints and enquiries

Members of the public who are concerned about a potential pollution issue are encouraged to contact our pollution hotline on 0800 80 70 60. This is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We aim to follow up all complaints within 24 hours.

Frequently asked questions

 


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.