THE new flare tip must be in place before the Fife Ethylene Plant is allowed to resume production next spring.

That is the decision by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency announced today (Friday).

The £3m tip, which will reduce noise and vibration when flaring takes place at the Mossmorran plant, was supposed to be completed by this autumn as part of the £140m refurbishment work to have been undertaken at the plant this year by the Covid-19 crisis has put the work on hold.

However, ExxonMobil had hoped to have until August next next year to have the tip up and running but SEPA announced today that this will not be good enough.

A spokesperson for the Agency said at lunchtime: "The short and medium-term investment we’re requiring the operators at the Mossmorran Complex to make, from noise-reducing flare tips to planning, designing then delivering new ground flare capacity, will make a real difference to local communities.

"We understand that the impact of restrictions put in place to tackle the spread of Covid-19 has had an impact on the original timelines for delivering some of this work.

"In April 2020, when we set out our regulatory approach in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were clear that where businesses are unable to fully meet their permit conditions, they should contact us. In June ExxonMobil Chemical Limited applied for a variation to its permit as it would be unable to complete the flare-tip installation as planned. The date applied for was August 2021.

"SEPA requested further information to enable us to determine whether this timescale was appropriate. It is better that the installation is done during the planned shutdown at the plant, to minimise the impact on the community by avoiding additional flaring.

"SEPA requested ExxonMobil Chemical Limited tell us the last date it will use the existing flare as part of this shutdown.

"ExxonMobil informed us this date is May 7 2021 and we have issued a variation notice to vary the site’s permit to state that the existing elevated flare cannot be used after this date and the plant can only restart once the noise-reducing flare tip is in place. We welcome the realism of a practical date for installation of this important element".