A £140 million plan to reduce flaring and improve infrastructure at a Fife ethylene plant has been announced by ExxonMobil.

The company said the work over the next two years will support around 850 local construction jobs and benefit 40 local suppliers.

Scotland’s environmental watchdog the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) launched a formal investigation into unplanned flaring at the Mossmorran plant in April following hundreds of complaints from local residents about a chemical smell and rumbling noise.

ExxonMobil said some of the £140 million investment will go toward technologies that reduce the impact of flaring, including a state-of-the-art flare tip, which will reduce noise and vibration.

Fife Ethylene Plant
ExxonMobil said the work will support 850 local construction jobs (Jane Barlow/PA)

It also plans to upgrade key infrastructure and introduce new technologies that will “significantly improve operational reliability and performance”.

Jacob McAlister, plant manager at the Fife ethylene plant, said: “These planned investments demonstrate our commitment to long-term reliable operations at the site.

“While already one of the most modern plants of its kind in Europe, we are always looking for ways to improve reliability and efficiency through continued maintenance and investment in new technologies.

“Fife has a long-term future as a competitive asset, contributing to both the local and national economies.”

He added: “We are committed to the highest operational and regulatory standards.

“This investment further contributes to the local economy and across Scotland through job creation and procurement contracts.”

The plant has been shut since mid-August for maintenance work on two of its three boilers and is expected to reopen towards the end of the year.

It began operations in 1985 and has a production capacity of more than 800,000 tonnes of ethylene a year.

In August Sepa varied the operating permits for ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited, which shares the site, requiring them both to address the impacts of flaring and install noise-reducing flare tips.

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “Given community concerns, the Scottish Government has been clear that the frequency of unplanned flaring at the site is unacceptable and that the operators must take steps to address this, so this announcement of action being taken is therefore to be welcomed.

“This significant capital investment over the next two years to improve the reliability and sustainability of the site is positive news and will help to address key issues identified by Sepa such as flaring and noise pollution.

“However, we know the local community will want to see this translated into lower frequency and impact of flaring too and I understand that is an objective of the investment also.

“It is also welcome that investment of this scale secures high-value employment that will be crucial in the transition to a net-zero economy in a way that is fair for all and we are keen to discuss with ExxonMobil the plant’s role in the transition itself.

“The oil and gas sector can and will play a positive role in the low carbon transition, helping to channel its resources and innovative supply chain to lower its own emissions, as this investment will do, and to help design the diverse energy system we need for the future.”

Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: “It is good to see the operator finally take steps to reduce flaring at this plant, and I know the many residents who have had to suffer light, noise and air pollution will be impatient for a better quality of life.

“However, many of my concerns remain.

“I can see nothing in these plans about investment into carbon capture and storage to ensure the plant meets the 2045 carbon-neutral target, a technology seen as the solution by the First Minister.

“The 850 jobs being promised are temporary ones, which is no way to secure the future of a community.”

Ian Buchanan, chief compliance officer at Sepa, said: “Sepa has been clear that repeated unplanned flaring by ExxonMobil was both unacceptable and preventable and that in future flaring will be the exception rather than routine.

“Having served a series of notices and operating permit variations to drive investment, including in noise-reducing flare tips by 2020, we welcome today’s broad announcement from ExxonMobil.

“We look forward to working with ExxonMobil on detailed proposals to both address the root causes of flaring and also on the requirement we have set around the shortest period possible to plan, design, build and safely integrate new ground flare technology which will significantly reduce impacts of flaring on local communities.”