Mossmorran flaring: Concerns raised over 'effectiveness' of watchdog
Politicians and campaigners have questioned the "effectiveness and credibility" of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) over its handling of flaring at the Mossmoran chemical plant in Fife.
Concerns were raised in a letter to the Scottish government after the fourth unplanned flaring incident this year.
Politicians from three parties and a local action group endorsed the letter.
Sepa said it had been in contact to discuss the concerns.
In recent years local residents have complained of repeated unscheduled flaring incidents leading to noise, disturbed sleep, light pollution and vibration to houses.
An update from Sepa from February this year listed a number of previous incidents involving ExxonMobil:
- June 2017 - 5.5 days of noise and vibration and 1.25 days of flaring
- October 2017 - 3.25 days of noise and vibration
- March 2018 - 3 days of noise and vibration
- May 2018 - 4 days of noise and vibration
Shell, which shares the site, was also singled out for black smoke being emitted for 26 minutes during the flaring in June 2017.
Both firms were issued with final warning letters by Sepa in April 2018.
'Out of date' permit
However, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP and Scottish Labour deputy leader Lesley Laird says that already this year there have been four further incidents - raising "serious questions" about the meaningfulness of such "final" warnings.
In a letter to Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, she says: "The effectiveness and credibility of the government agency responsible for protecting our communities, Sepa, is now being called into serious question in terms of their capacity, capability and resources."
She continued "Even beyond the serious concerns of health, trust and confidence in the plant operation there is now increasing alarm about the ineffectiveness of Sepa to adequately address and act on the continuing non-compliance with the operating permit for this site.
"The current permit seems wholly out of date and inadequate in regulating these plants in a way that is relevant to the current circumstances."
The letter is endorsed by Labour MSPs Claire Baker and Mark Rowley, Tory MSPs Alexander Stewart and Elizabeth Smith, Green MSP Mark Ruskell, Prof Wilson Sibbett, chairman of the local Air Quality Monitoring group as well as the Mossmorran Action Group and several local councillors.
ExxonMobil has apologised for the latest unplanned flaring which started on Monday evening, saying it was necessary during repair work to the plant's boilers.
A Sepa spokeswoman said the agency had been in contact with Lesley Laird's office to discuss her concerns.
She said: "We have made clear that ExxonMobil must take steps to minimise the impact of flaring that is currently ongoing.
"Specialist teams are monitoring air quality and, as with previous incidents, will monitor noise across evenings in line with evidential monitoring standards.
"Initial air quality monitoring continues to be in line with previous monitoring and shows no cause for concern.
"The focus of a live regulatory review, officers are currently gathering data to an evidential standard."
A spokesman for the Scottish government said it had made clear that prolonged, unplanned flaring was unacceptable.
"The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is currently responding to the latest flaring incident and carrying out a formal investigation into prolonged unplanned flaring earlier this year," he said.
"We are awaiting the conclusion of that investigation before deciding on the most appropriate course of action."