THE Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has served the first in a series of permit variations to lock in compliance at the Mossmorran facility and reduce flaring impacts.

On Friday the regulator served operating permit variations on ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell U.K. Limited to require both operators to achieve ‘Best Available Techniques’ at Mossmorran in the shortest timeframe possible.

The variations will lead to a reduction in the impacts of flaring on local communities when it 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 disturbance to the people of the Cowdenbeath-Lochgelly are when flaring must happen.

The agency confirmed a requirement on the operator to install noise reducing flare tips in 2020 (for ExxonMobil Chemical Limited) and 2021 (for Shell U.K. Limited).

Following direct engagement this week, SEPA also announced ExxonMobil Chemical Limited has committed to optimising timescales to install ground flares - which will significantly address impacts from flaring.

SEPA also announced a two month requirement for the company to come forward with the “shortest period possible to plan, design, build and safely integrate” new ground flare technology. Shell U.K. Limited must provide SEPA with a project plan by the end of January 2020 for a totally enclosed ground flare system.

The moves follow SEPA’s Final Warning Letters to both operators in 2018 regarding flaring which was found to be “preventable and unacceptable”. Friday's move is a direct consequence of a 2018 requirement from SEPA that both companies conduct comprehensive technical assessments to ensure both companies were using ‘Best Available Techniques’. These were received from both operators on April 30 2019 and were subject to a rigorous review by technical specialists in SEPA.

SEPA’s review of the assessments found that ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell U.K. Limited are not currently using all Best Available Techniques for flaring. On August 16 the agency acknowledged ExxonMobil’s recognition of the requirement to upgrade their plant but found that their proposed timescales to increase capacity and accessibility to ground flares were unacceptable. SEPA found that Shell U.K. Limited had not sufficiently demonstrated that the proposed principles, approach and level of upgrade to the plant would achieve Best Available Techniques and were also unacceptable.

Friday's action also followed investigations in 2018/19 and an earlier tightening of permit conditions.

Continuing to respond to community concern, SEPA has confirmed the continuation air quality monitoring at a number of locations around the site, as the agency’s sixth published monitoring report continues to show no breach of air quality standards due to flaring at Mossmorran.

SEPA will work with partner agencies with air quality responsibilities to assess requirements thereafter.

SEPA reaffirmed its complex regulatory investigation to an evidential standard involving specialist technical, regulatory and enforcement officers, will conclude by end November 2019, subject to no new lines of enquiry being uncovered during this phase. SEPA confirmed last week that it will fully investigate the current incident.

Ian Buchanan, Chief Officer, Compliance and Beyond at SEPA said: “Last week we reiterated that compliance with Scotland’s environmental rules is simply non-negotiable, we said that SEPA and local communities wanted faster progress and outlined the steps we would take to make this happen.

“Today we’ve moved to vary the operating permits of both ExxonMobil Chemical and Shell to require them to take action in the shortest possible timeframe. Addressing the unacceptable impacts will require substantial investments of which both companies are fully aware.

“People rightly expect that their lives won’t be impacted by nearby industrial processes. Most also recognise that addressing the root causes won’t happen overnight. We want and expect ExxonMobil Chemical to move faster. In addition to requiring both companies to install noise reducing flare tips, we now expect firm proposals to be brought forward to explain how new ground flare capacity will be planned, designed, built and safely integrated in the shortest period possible.

“Today’s action will get us to clear commitments and milestones to address the systemic causes of flaring and ensure future flaring becomes an exception rather than routine.”

Teresa Waddington, Shell Fife FNGL Plant Manager, said:  “We have received a notice of permit variation and we will review it carefully.

"We are committed to operating the Shell Fife NGL plant within regulations, and improving in alignment with best available techniques for flaring practices.  The plant plays a vital role in the supply of energy to Scotland and the UK every day, and we strive to minimise our impact on the local community.”

Jacob McAlister, plant manager at FEP said: “We are committed to delivering this comprehensive, multi-million pound programme. In fact, we have already made significant progress on a number of the commitments.”

 “We are prioritising the 12 steps that can help prevent the need to flare, while the final two – including a new flare tip and ground flare or equivalent to meet BAT – are technical solutions to minimise amenity concern on the occasions when flaring is required.

 “Our key process actions have already delivered benefits, as was demonstrated during our planned flaring event in July, when we significantly reduced the size of the flare itself and the length of time it was operating.

 “Work on the planning process with Fife Council for our new advanced flare tip due for installation next year is also underway. This technology alone can reduce the noise and vibration compared with our current flare.

 “We are pleased that SEPA has recognised the significant levels of design and engineering required to safely deliver all our commitments on BAT, but we are committed to working together to optimise timescales.

 “Communities can be assured that we are taking the action needed.”