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'Unplanned Flaring' Continues at Chemical Plant

Published in Oil Industry News on Thursday, 25 April 2019


Graphic for News Item: 'Unplanned Flaring' Continues at Chemical Plant

The flare of Mossmorran can be seen for miles and miles – and over the weekend its belching black smoke was clearly visible from Edinburgh.

However the bright burning flame is all too close to home for some of those living in parts of Fife.

Edinburgh Live reported on Easter Sunday that anger had met the sight of "unplanned flaring" at the ethylene plant near Cowdenbeath.

While people were outside enjoying one of the warmest weekends of the year many were concerned about the impact the fumes could be having on them.

One person who lives nearby tweeted: "Hottest day of the year and we can't even open our windows and doors. Who knows what we are all breathing in out there – hope there is a report."

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We thought we'd look at whether these fumes are dangerous – and what environmental health experts say about it.

What is Mossmorran?

Mossmorran is an ethylene plant operated by ExxonMobil on the outskirts of Cowdenbeath. It covers an area of around 250 acres and was opened by the Queen in 1986.

ExxonMobil say that it is one of Europe's largest and most modern ethylene plants – and was the first specifically designed to use "natural gas liquids from the North Sea as feedstock".

Once gas and oil are separated offshore, the gas is routed via pipelines to St Fergus in Aberdeenshire. The methane is then sent to a National Grid plant while the remaining natural gas liquids head for Mossmorran.

At the NGL plant there this is separated into component parts – ethane, propane, butane, pentane and natural gasoline. At the ethylene plant the ethane feedstock is then treated to remove carbon dioxide, and is mixed with superheated steam and heated to 800C to crack it into ethylene.

While Mossmorran was designed to produce 500,000 tonnes of ethylene each year it actually produces around 300,000 tonnes more than that. Around half is distributed via the UK ethylene pipiline, the rest is pumped to Braefood Bay Marine Terminal on the Forth and stored as a liquid before being shipped to Antwerp.

Around 170 employees and 50 core contractors work there.

Is it dangerous?

The flaring at Mossmorran usually happens when a problem has arisen and gas which cannot be processed properly is burned. ExxonMobil said that Easter Sunday's "unplanned flaring" was due to process interruption, and engineers were working hard to resolve the issue.

For years people in Fife have been voicing concerns that the plant could pose a risk to their health. While some living nearby complained of sleep deprivation due to the burning flame, others were worried about the impact it was having on air quality.

However ExxonMobil have stressed that flaring is an essential part of the plant's safety systems, and it poses no danger to communities or those working there.

A spokesperson told Kingdom FM in 2017: "Many years of rigorous testing by 3rd party consultants on behalf of the Fife Council Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Independent Air Quality Monitoring Review Group show that ExxonMobil Chemical Limited facilities at Mossmorran and Braefood Bay have no significant impact on air quality in the local communities and meet national and EU air quality objectives."

Final warnings issued by SEPA

While ExxonMobile insist the flaring doesn't pose any danger, people have still been expressing their concerns.

After flaring began yesterday Fife councillor Darren Watt tweeted to say residents were "worried" and deserved some assurances. He confirmed that several people had been in touch with him about the issue.

SEPA have also been monitoring the situation, and last year they issued final warning notices following a "serious flaring incident" at the plant. They said that increased monitoring would be taking place after environmental licences were breached.

They took to social media to say that they were aware of the Easter Sunday flaring and would be "responding" to it.

Source: www.edinburghlive.co.uk

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