Clear pathway to compliance for Mossmorran as watchdog strengthens regulation & monitoring of Fife sites

  19 March 2021
Irish Environmental Protection Agency Best Practice Review will lead to community participation in design of monitoring network, enhanced visibility of compliance & monitoring reports & new online regulatory hub.

• A ‘clear pathway to compliance’ now exists for the Mossmorran industrial complex.
• £140m upgrade of ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant to commence next month to improve site reliability.
• Installation of a noise reducing flare tip this spring, with ExxonMobil committing to the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare in 2022 which the company states will reduce the use of the elevated flare by 98%.
• The move follows Final Warning Letters, the submission of a report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution in July 2020 in relation to the flaring at the Mossmorran complex during April 2019 and a series of stringent regulatory requirements and permit variations on both operators requiring defined actions.
• SEPA publishes Irish Environmental Protection Agency best practice review which will lead to community participation in the design of a site monitoring network, enhanced visibility of compliance and monitoring reports and a new online regulatory hub.
• SEPA further commits to strengthen the regulation and monitoring of both sites across the investment period, with specialist monitoring, compliance, enforcement and support staff involved in work on the industrial complex.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has said there is now a ‘clear pathway to compliance’ for the Mossmorran industrial complex in Fife following years of unacceptable flaring.

A £140m upgrade of the ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant is to commence next month (April) to improve site reliability and reduce the impacts of flaring which SEPA has said must become the ‘exception rather than routine.’ The investment will see over 1,000 workers deliver over 300,000 hours of work as part of a major investment at the site.

The improvement programme will see the installation of a noise reducing flare tip this spring, with the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare that ExxonMobil has committed to install in 2022 which the company states will reduce the use of the elevated flare by 98%.

The move follows Final Warning Letters in 2018, the submission of a report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution
in July 2020 in relation to the flaring at the Mossmorran complex during April 2019 and a series of stringent regulatory requirements and permit variations on both operators requiring defined actions.

Taken together, the package will significantly improve the reliability of the ExxonMobil Chemical Limited Fife Ethylene Plant, reducing the requirement for flaring and significantly reducing the community impact of flaring when it does occur.

SEPA has specialist monitoring, compliance, enforcement and support staff involved in work on the industrial complex and the agency has committed to further strengthen the regulation and monitoring of both sites across the investment period in response to the agency’s peer review by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, published today.

The best practice review was commissioned by SEPA in May 2020 to share good practice and advise on any further actions that may be taken to drive compliance at the Mossmorran site. The review was part of a package of measures announced by SEPA including an independent technical assessment of the ground flare installation timeline from ExxonMobil Chemical Limited, the publication of ambient air quality monitoring reports and support for Fife Council’s review of community liaison structures.

From the recommendations of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency best practice review, some nine actions are already underway by SEPA, a further eight will be taken forward, one will be considered and two are rejected. Key recommendations will
see SEPA’s programme of environmental monitoring extended with community participation in its design, enhanced visibility of regulatory monitoring results and investment in a refreshed online community information hub.

Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said:
“At SEPA we’ve been clear that compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable, that flaring at the Mossmorran complex was unacceptable and must become the exception rather than routine. We’ve used the full force of our powers, from regulatory requirements and operating permit variations to Final Warning Letters and submission of a report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution.

“We’ve also been clear that our actions present a clear pathway to compliance for the industrial complex and that what mattered to communities was actions rather than words. Next month’s £140m investment programme by ExxonMobil, the installation of noise reducing flare tip followed by a new enclosed ground flare in 2022 are major milestones to compliance which will mean less flaring and less impact on communities on the occasions flaring is required in the future.

“In our focus on Mossmorran, we’re using every tool available to drive investment, improvements and hold both operators to account, including an independent technical assessment and a best practice review by our sister environment protection agency. We welcome the report’s conclusions and recommendations and thank the independent Irish team for their work. Whilst in most cases recommendations are already underway, we welcome further suggestions, with only a small number not appropriate in this instance.

“Communities across Fife have the right to a future where flaring is the exception rather than routine. Robust regulation takes time but through our work and the significant investment by site operators, hope and a clear pathway to compliance is now in
sight for local communities who can be assured of our enhanced vigilance over this important period and beyond.”

Laura Burke, Director General of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, said:
“The regulation of complex industrial facilities is important for the protection of communities and our environment and it is good practice for regulatory authorities to draw on each other’s expertise and to share experience. Following our review, we have
considerable confidence in SEPA’s approach to ensuring compliance at the Mossmorran complex. Our recommendations reflect that sharing of regulatory expertise and experience and it is clear that many of them are already being incorporated into SEPA’s approach or will be taken forward by the Agency.”

Ends

Notes to editors

June 2018 : Notices of variations to Permits were served on ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited which included the requirement to complete an evaluation of the Best Available Techniques (BAT) to prevent and, where that is not practicable, reduce emissions of noise, vibration and smoke associated with flaring.
April 2018 : Final Warning Letters to both ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited.
January to April 2019 : SEPA air quality monitoring programme undertaken.
April 2019 : SEPA receives the Best Available Techniques (BAT) assessments from Shell UK Limited and ExxonMobil Chemical Limited.
April 2019 : ExxonMobil Chemical Limited commits to the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare.
August 2019 : Operating permit variations served on ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell U.K. Limited to require both operators to achieve ‘Best Available Techniques’ at Mossmorran.
August 2019 : ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited each submitted environmental monitoring programmes.
August 2019 : SEPA deploys monitoring network, at three locations around site and commences regular publication of reports concluding no significant impacts on local air quality.
July 2020 : Submission of report to the Crown Office for consideration of prosecution in relation to the flaring at the Mossmorran complex during April 2019.
April 2021 : £140m ExxonMobil Chemical Limited investment programme including installation of a noise reducing flare tip.
2022 : ExxonMobil commitment to complete the installation of a fully enclosed ground flare in 2022 which the company states will reduce the use of the elevated flare by 98%.

RECOMMENDATIONS SUMMARY:

RECOMMENDATION

UNDERWAY

TO BE TAKEN FORWARD

CONSIDERED

REJECTED

SITE INFRASTRUCTURE / PROCESS / INSTALLATION

1a. Assess whether the current ethylene production throughput at the facility is a significant contributory factor to the increased flaring and associated off-site impacts.

 

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1b. Update the inventory of key infrastructure and risk assess each with a view to their replacement/upgrading on an ongoing basis to ensure a proactive approach towards management of the root causes of flaring.

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1c. Provide a dedicated plan of works which focuses on the continued deployment of key BAT requirements at the installation. SEPA should consider the use of Article 14(6) of the Industrial Emissions Directive if any production process carried out within the installation is not covered by any of the BAT conclusions or where those conclusions do not address all the potential environmental effects of the activity or process.    

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1d. Provide proposals to limit/reduce the quantities of gas being fed to the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation during periods of prolonged elevated flaring. The potential cessation or reduction in intake of feedstock gas to the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant during periods of process instability / flaring may mitigate prolonged flaring events.

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1e. Provide regular (i.e. no less than monthly) written updates regarding progress towards the installation of the low noise and vibration flare tip that has been proposed for the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation and is required by Permit.

 

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ON-SITE TECHNICAL EXPERTISE

2a. Consider the deployment of a suitably qualified and experienced expert(s) to act as site agent(s) on the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation. Their duties would include the observation and assessment of the day to day operation of the installation, to assess compliance with the PPC Permit for the facility and to monitor impacts on the surrounding locality and environment. The selection and appointment of the site agent(s) would be undertaken by SEPA.

 

 

 

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REGULATORY APPROACH

3a. Record all visits by SEPA regulatory personnel to the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation and its environs (e.g. odour assessments, complaint investigations, etc). Reports of all such visits, including the main findings, should be prepared and published on the SEPA web site.

 

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3b. Undertake a review of ‘Permit Variations’ process and, in particular, whether on-site changes are considered to be substantial or otherwise. This review should clearly establish the criteria for deciding on what warrants a review of the PPC permit for key aspects (e.g. installation of ground flare).

 

 

 

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3c. Non-Technical summaries should be included in all ‘Permit variations’ issued by SEPA together with a report from the inspector for each “Permit variation” and made available to the public on the SEPA website.

 

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COMMUNITY LIAISON

4a. SEPA should undertake a review of the community liaison and communications programme and have regard to the delivery of a more comprehensive and improved programme, including more workshops and meetings chaired by an independent facilitator agreeable to interested parties.

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4b. The appointment and deployment of community liaison personnel who are sourced from within the community should be considered.  This can act as a communication conduit between the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant operators, SEPA and the local communities.

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COMMUNICATIONS

5a. Maintain appropriate records of all key compliance and regulatory actions in a standardised format and make these available to the public via the SEPA website. Likewise, all key information from ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant which is submitted to SEPA should be made available to the public on the SEPA website where appropriate.

 

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5b. SEPA should consider an upgrade of its website to allow clear and easy access to different types of information (e.g. permit applications, permit variations, compliance and regulatory information). This will enhance the ability of data to be shared and information to be exchanged with the key stakeholders.

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5c. While the review team recognise that SEPA have a service charter and instructions on how to make an environmental complaint on the SEPA website, it is recommended that SEPA publish additional details on its complaint handling procedure for investigating and responding to complaints from the public.

 

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AMBIENT MONITORING

6a. A continuous noise monitoring network, which provides real-time and historic monitoring data, compliance management and audio playback should be installed in the vicinity of the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation. This data should be used to assess compliance with noise limits (at noise sensitive locations) which should be included in the PPC permit for the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation.

 

 

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6b. A network of real time VOC monitors should be installed in the vicinity of the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation in order to enhance the air quality monitoring programme around the area.

 

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6c. Continue to undertake field testing and investigations of any alleged off-site odour impact (using SEPA’s guidance) at and in the vicinity of the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation. The odour assessments should continue to be carried out by ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant and SEPA personnel who are specifically trained in the relevant method. Formal records of all such assessments should be maintained and included in inspection reports.

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EMISSIONS MONITORING

7a. A detailed assessment of emissions from the ground flare at the Shell UK Ltd installation (that is used by ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd) should be carried out in order to assess the efficiency and capacity of the flare and to quantify the emissions from the flare.

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7b. Periodic assessments of the emissions to air from permitted point sources at the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation and the ground flare at the Shell UK Ltd installation should be carried out at least annually by SEPA and the reports of the monitoring should be made available on the SEPA website.

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MODELLING

8a. Undertake a revised assessment, including appropriate air dispersion modelling, using actual emission data, to predict the impact of emissions from the ExxonMobil Chemical Ltd Fife Ethylene Plant installation from both point and fugitive sources (and including emissions from the ground flare at the Shell UK Ltd installation). Modelling should be used to model a number of different scenarios (e.g. worst case scenario, prolonged flaring impact scenario, etc).

 

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