Scotland's chief environmental agency described the intense, unplanned flaring at a chemical plant in Mossmorran Thursday night as "unacceptable." It was visible nearly 10 miles away.
ExxonMobil took to Twitter to explain that the situation at the company’s Fife Ethylene Plant was not a fire but a safety procedure.
“Our flaring last night is not unusual during a complex re-start but we absolutely appreciated this may have caused concern,” a post on ExxonMobil’s Twitter account states.
Flaring is used to safely regulate the mounting pressure in process units when the process is interrupted by some event. Gases or liquids are diverted by way of flare headers to be burned at the top of elevated stacks.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency said that nearly four hours of flaring was reported and suggested that it was the result of problems with a process unit and the reduced capacity of ground flares to handle it.
“The agency understands the restart is likely to continue into the weekend and SEPA advised it will continue daily regulatory updates,” a press release states.
Local complaints about the frequency and length of flaring episodes at Fife has been an ongoing issue in recent years with the SEPA making a reduction in flaring a condition of the plant renewed operating permit in August 2019.
Addition of noise reducing flare tips and an increase in ground flare capacity at Fife is slated within the next two years.
“We accept that flaring is causing people worry, anxiety and stress,” the SEPA press release states.
The plant has an annual capacity of 830,000 tons of ethylene and employs nearly 170 people. To make ethylene, ethane feedstock is heated to almost 900 degree Celsius to ‘crack” into ethylene in the steam cracking furnaces.
The gas stream is then cooled to -150 degrees Celsius to recover the valuable ethylene product.