Flaring at Mossmorran - previous updates

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On 8 June 2018,the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Health and Safety Executive announced a joint investigation into ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Limited, the operators of the Mossmorran petrochemical plants in Fife.

The move followed the serving of Final Warning Letters on both companies by the agency in April 2018 related to “preventable and unacceptable” unplanned flaring during June 2017. 

SEPA Chief Executive, Terry A’Hearn, also announced operating permit variations were to be served on ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Limited following a review announced in April, to strengthen noise and vibration controls. 

With the operating permit variations now served on both companies, the documents are available to download and view, as per our commitment.

Mr. A’Hearn listened carefully to first-hand accounts from the community and their elected representatives both at last week’s stakeholder meeting and again during the Scottish Parliament debate.

Following the publication of the variations Terry A’Hearn said:

“Every day, SEPA works to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment and compliance with Scotland’s environmental rules is simply non-negotiable.  

“We were clear that unplanned flaring in June 2017 was preventable and unacceptable and we issued final warnings to both companies in that regard.  We listened carefully to community calls for a root and branch review and have taken action to begin the joint investigation with the Health & Safety Executive. 

“The permit variations we have now served on ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK set out what each operator must do under law. They include legally binding conditions requiring them to take all appropriate preventative measures now against noise and vibration emissions through the application of Best Available Techniques, so no significant pollution is caused.  They also require a refreshed assessment of the Best Available Techniques likely to require investment at both facilities. 

“SEPA will be holding review meetings at key stages to ensure progress is made to the timetable. These meetings will involve senior executives from SEPA and both companies.” 

SEPA's CEO, Terry A'Hearn, talks to the joint investigation by SEPA and the Health and Safety Executive into Mossmorran complex following April ‘final warning’ letters for environmental non-compliance.

Details of the October, March and May flaring incidents and monitoring data remain under investigation to avoid prejudice to future enforcement action.

 8 June 2018 - SEPA & HSE joint investigation at Mossmorran

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) & the Health and Safety Executive today (Friday 8th June 2018) announced a joint investigation into ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Limited, the operators of the Mossmorran petrochemical plants in Fife.

The move follows the serving of Final Warning Letters on both companies by the agency in April 2018 related to “preventable and unacceptable” unplanned flaring during June 2017. 

Operating permit variations are to be served on ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Limited following a review announced in April, to strengthen noise and vibration controls.  These will be published on SEPA’s website next week. 

Hearing first-hand accounts of the constituency MP, MSPs, Councillors and communities, SEPA Chief Executive, Terry A’Hearn, explained why October, March and May flaring incidents and monitoring data required to remain under investigation to avoid prejudice to future enforcement action.

Speaking after the community meeting in Kirkcaldy, SEPA Chief Executive, Terry A’Hearn, said:

“Every day, SEPA works to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment and compliance with Scotland’s environmental rules is simply non-negotiable.  

“We were clear that unplanned flaring in June 2017 was preventable and unacceptable and we issued final warnings to both companies in that regard.  Despite that, communities have endured further unplanned flaring in October, March and again in May.

“We’ve listened carefully to community calls for a root and branch review and today’s announcement of a joint investigation by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) & the Health & Safety Executive will examine issues at both sites.

“But more than that, in April we promised a review of operating permits.  Operating permit variations will be served on ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK in the next week.  These permits are legal documents which set out what each operator must do under law. 

“It’s right that people want to know more about October, March and May flaring incidents.  That said, people want action not words which is why I’ve come personally to explain why these incidents remain under investigation and why we need to avoid prejudice to future enforcement action.

“We’re listening to the community and it’s important the companies do too.”

24 May -SEPA has been notified by ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd that flaring at Mossmorran has now ceased.

In response to the latest flaring incident, SEPA mobilised a full response, including air quality and noise monitoring, to assess local impacts. We have launched a formal investigation.

We are clear that compliance is non-negotiable, and will continue to use our regulatory influence at all levels.

SEPA operates a 24 hour Pollution Hotline (0800 80 70 60).

22 May 2018 - ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd at Mossmorran advised SEPA on Saturday 19 May of flaring at the Fife Ethylene Plant due to a mechanical issue with an onsite pump. SEPA mobilised a full response.

We have received an update from Exxonmobil this afternoon that they are working to resume normal operations and note that their current outlook is that elevated flaring will cease on Thursday.   

We are continuing to work with the operator, and engage with elected members and partner agencies. We are committed to keeping the community up-to-date with the latest information.

SEPA operates a 24 hour Pollution Hotline (0800 80 70 60) for members of the public. We’re sharing information on this page, our dedicated Mossmorran hub and across social media.

22 May 2018 - A community statement has been issued by ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd.

20 May 2018 - A community statement has been issued by ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd.

20 May 2018 - SEPA was notified on Saturday 19 March by ExxonMobil Chemical Limited at Mossmorran in Fife that flaring was required due to a mechanical issue with an onsite pump.

Flaring is an important part of the safety system of the plant and is used to burn off gas that cannot be processed safely due to the volumes involved or the gas being off specification. ExxonMobil Chemical Limited, as part of the licence conditions with SEPA, is permitted to flare for safety purposes. However, there are conditions in the permits relating to flaring which aim to minimise community disturbance and pollution from flaring.

In April 2018, SEPA issued final warning letters to the petrochemical companies ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited following enhanced unplanned flaring at the complex during June 2017. This was the result of an investigation that identified a series of maintenance failures led to elevated levels of unplanned flaring in breach of environmental controls between 12 and 18 June, following the breakdown of a condensate pump.

Flaring remains an important safety mechanism and is permitted through licence conditions. However, in response to the flaring, which began in the evening of Saturday 19 May, SEPA has mobilised a full response. The response includes both air quality and noise monitoring to assess the local impacts.

SEPA experts are in the local area and have started to capture air quality samples. The air quality data will be subject to further analysis but early indications show that levels are consistent with our expectations. We are clear that environmental compliance is non-negotiable and both the air quality and noise monitoring SEPA staff is undertaking is to assess the impact of flaring. Whilst currently restricted in what we are able to communicate at this time, to avoid any prejudice to any potential enforcement action, our officers will continue to engage with operators and attend the local community.

SEPA operates a 24 hour Pollution Hotline (0800 80 70 60) for members of the public. We’re sharing information on this page, our dedicated Mossmorran hub and across social media.

19 May 2018 - ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd at Mossmorran this evening advised SEPA of flaring at the Fife Ethylene Plant due to a mechanical issue with an onsite pump. SEPA Officers are engaging with the operators and will monitor against the site's licence conditions. SEPA operates a 24 hour Pollution Hotline (0800 80 70 60).

19 April 2018 - Petrochemical companies ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Limited have been served with Final Warning Letters by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) following an enhanced unplanned flaring event at the Mossmorran complex in Fife, during June 2017.

SEPA found residents were subject to considerable disturbance in their homes from noise, vibration and black smoke over the seven-day period in Summer 2017, during which a total of 74 complaints were received by the agency.

While the Final Warning Letters brings to a close SEPA’s regulatory investigation for June 2017, unplanned flaring events which took place in October 2017 and March 2018 are still under investigation.

The Final Warning Letters issued to ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd and Shell UK Limited are available to view below:

ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd - Final Warning Letter - April 2018

Shell UK Limited - Final Warning Letter - April 2018

27 March 2018 - At around 01.30 hrs on Monday 26 March flaring ceased at the ExxonMobil Chemical Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorran.

SEPA is clear that environmental compliance is non-negotiable and the air quality and noise monitoring SEPA staff undertook across the weekend was to assess impact of flaring and inform our future regulatory approach with the site.

Whilst currently restricted in what we are able to communicate at this time, to avoid any prejudice to any potential enforcement action, SEPA will openly notify community stakeholders in relation to our enforcement decisions as soon as this is possible.

24 March 2018 - We have responded quickly to the initial notification of flaring on 23 March and undertook monitoring and assessments. SEPA officers will attend the local community to help ensure the environment is protected and the community is well informed.

23 March 2018 - SEPA was informed on Friday 23 March by ExxonMobil Chemical Limited at Mossmorran that flaring was required due to a process upset that requires a re-start of the plant.

Flaring is necessary to ensure the continued safe operation of the plant, but the impact must be mitigated. SEPA works every day to protect Scotland’s environment and responded quickly to the initial notification on Friday by mobilising a range of environment protection, air quality and noise monitoring teams. Specialist teams have continued to work around the clock, during mornings, evenings and into the night across the weekend as part of an ongoing regulatory investigation.

We're disappointed that flaring has continued across the weekend and with the impacts this has had on local communities. We are clear that environmental compliance is non-negotiable and the air quality and noise monitoring SEPA staff are undertaking is to assess impact of flaring and inform our future regulatory approach with the site.

Whilst currently restricted in what we are able to communicate at this time, to avoid any prejudice to any potential enforcement action, our officers are speaking with people in local communities and our 24 hour pollution line (0800 80 70 60) continues to receive calls. We’re also sharing as much information as possible on this page, our dedicated Mossmorran hub.

We will provide as much information as we can on the results of this monitoring as soon as it is possible.

SEPA, in addition to other public agencies, is jointly responsible for the regulation of ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited at Mossmorran.

Martin Grey from SEPA provides an update on the current flaring from ExxonMobil Chemical Limited at Mossmorran - goo.gl/odUZom

23 March 2018 - We have been informed that flaring is anticipated for the next 48 hours due to an operational upset on the main compressor. SEPA officers are engaging with the operator and will be attending the area this morning.

23 February 2018 - We have been informed that flaring is occurring at Shell Mossmorran. This is expected to cease this evening.

31 October 2017 - We have been informed that flaring has now finished. We will be following up with the operator in order to understand what actions they intend to take.

30 October 2017 - We have been advised that there has been a delay in the restart of the plant which means that flaring is expected to continue throughout the day. We are in contact with the operator to understand what has caused this delay.  UPDATE at 16:40 - the operator is currently expecting to return to normal operation overnight.

29 October 2017 - SEPA is continuing to liaise with ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd regarding the current flaring at Mossmorran to ensure the operator is doing all they can to minimise the impact of this activity on the local community. The site has been flaring since Friday 27 October following a process issue. Flaring is required to enable a controlled shutdown of the plant and allow the plant to restart safely. We have been advised that flaring should diminish over the rest of today and into tomorrow. We will be following up with the operator in order to understand what actions they intend to take.

28 October 2017 - SEPA is continuing to liaise with ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd regarding the current flaring at Mossmorran. The operator advised us yesterday (27 October) that a controlled shutdown of the plant would be required following a process issue. Flaring is necessary to carry out this activity and allow the plant to re-start safely. We have received a number of calls from members of the public about the flaring which began yesterday evening. At present we understand that flaring is likely to continue into tomorrow. We are in contact with ExxonMobil to ensure the operator does all they can to minimise the impact of this activity on the local community.

27 October 2017 - ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd at Mossmorran have advised us that they are in the process of starting a controlled shutdown of the plant following a process issue. Flaring is necessary to carry out this activity and allow the plant to re-start safely. We have been advised that the plant is likely to start flaring this evening (Friday 27 October). SEPA will continue to liaise with ExxonMobil to ensure that this activity is carried out in a way that minimises the impact on the local community.

SEPA response to local coverage in June

The following letter was submitted to the Courier and Central Fife Times on 23.08.17.

We fully understand that many local people are very concerned about the flaring that occurred at the Mossmorran complex in June.  Our focus is on ensuring that we investigate fully what happened and that similar events do not reoccur.

For clarity, SEPA regulates the environmental aspects of the Mossmorran complex where both Shell and ExxonMobil hold permits. These include conditions relating to flaring and controls applied under the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations.

A team of SEPA staff are currently carrying out a full investigation.

We gave a commitment at the Mossmorran Action Group meeting held in Lochgelly in July to provide updates on the progress of our investigation, and we would like to take this opportunity to reassure the public that this remains the case. 

Our investigation will look into what caused the flaring to occur and assess whether there have been any breaches of permit conditions by either company.

This investigatory work is part of an evidence gathering process which will inform any future enforcement actions, one of which could be the submission of a report to the Procurator Fiscal, and as such we are not in a position to release the details of the investigation at this time.

Our investigation is therefore ongoing and we’d like to reassure the public that we will continue to engage with community representatives and will share what information we can when we can.

Ian Buchanan

Head of Regulatory Services

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

June 2017 flaring investigation

SEPA received a considerable number of complaints from members of the public regarding flaring from the Mossmorran Complex (Shell and ExxonMobil) between 12 and 24 June. An investigation is currently underway.

Rob Morris, SEPA Area Manager, attended a meeting of the Mossmorran Action Group on 5 July.

"This was a very important opportunity for me as a representative of SEPA to meet and hear from those who have been affected by recent flaring at the Mossmorran petrochemical complex. It also allowed me to explain our regulatory role and some of what will happen next.

"A team of SEPA technical and enforcement specialists who are independent of regulating the site on a day-to-day basis will be carrying out a full investigation. SEPA gave commitment last night to giving future updates on how it is progressing with its investigations whilst stressing the importance of gathering appropriate evidence to inform any future enforcement actions."

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