ExxonMobil’s Mossmorran chemical plant in Fife is being investigated by the HSE after it was discovered that ethane had been leaking from damaged pipes for a “number of weeks”. The ethylene plant, around 25 miles north of Edinburgh, is jointly operated by Shell and has also been criticised on numerous occasions for excessive flaring.
According to sources the leak of highly flammable ethane had been ongoing for weeks before it was discovered on May 21. HSE’s intervention led to ExxonMobil taking the pipes out of service and declaring that the problem had been “fully rectified”. Reports suggest that HSE was investigating the possible failure of management systems and may decide to take legal enforcement action.
The leak at the Mossmorran plant was discovered just days after a propane leak was also discovered at the nearby Braefoot Bay terminal on May 17 which is also jointly operated by ExxonMobil and Shell.
HSE spokeperson has said: “HSE inspectors conducting a routine inspection identified a leak from an ethane pipe. Initial enquiries indicated this had been ongoing for a number of weeks and was being monitored by the operator. HSE has however launched a full investigation into the causes of the leak including any failures of the management systems used by the operator. Following the intervention, the line was isolated and the damaged pipework has now been bypassed and is no longer in use and will be repaired. The investigation is still ongoing.”
Cowdenbeath MSP, Annabelle Ewing, voiced anger that ExxonMobil had kept quiet about the gas leak for so long and that something needed to be done “before Fife suffers its very own Bhopal” – the 1984 disaster where thousands perished as a result of a leak at a chemical plant. The Mossmorran Action Group also voiced concern and suggested that ExxonMobil was more concerned with its marketing than safety.
The discovery of the ethane leak at the plant follows months of complaints about the plant’s excessive flaring. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has investigated a number of flaring incidents which Exxon and Shell have blamed on “mechanical issues” in the past. In June 2017, SEPA issued a final warning to the companies following a seven-day period of flaring.
According to reports, a five-month investigation found maintenance failures led to elevated levels of unplanned flaring. Exxon said a cable responsible for the incident was replaced and increased monitoring was installed. However, flaring incidents have continued.
The ethylene plant at Mossmorran, which employs 170 people, takes ethane from the North Sea and makes up to 830,000 tonnes of ethylene a year.