Long-suffering communities secured a breakthrough last week with the news that Mossmorran will be subject to a joint investigation following recent episodes of unplanned flaring.
The announcement was made during the Mossmorran Communities Work Group meeting on Friday and will mean that the plant will be investigated by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
When Professor Wilson Sibbett and I formed the cross-party, cross-community group, we did so in the hope that, with one voice, the group would be instrumental in bringing more pressure to bear on regulators and Mossmorran.
This development proves this approach can succeed – and shows the power of getting the right people together in one room.
SEPA’s chief executive Terry A’Hearn chose to attend to speak directly with community representatives and his clear commitment to halt unplanned flaring is a first victory for residents.
Mr A’Hearn listened to people describing the misery of the impact of noise, vibration and light from flaring – Cllr Alex Campbell, for example, who lives five miles from the plant, likened the noise to that of a helicopter landing in his back garden.
While Mr A’Hearn praised Mossmorran for its willingness to engage in investigations, he immediately warned: “We don’t regulate attitude, we regulate performance”.
Variations to Mossmorran’s permit were imposed this week by SEPA.
Mr A’Hearne said: “They include legally binding conditions requiring them to take all appropriate preventative measures now against noise and vibration emissions through the application of best available techniques, so no significant pollution is caused.
“They also require a refreshed assessment of the best available techniques likely to require investment at both facilities.
“Sepa will be holding review meetings at key stages to ensure progress is made to the timetable.
“These meetings will involve senior executives from SEPA and both companies.”
ExxonMobil and Shell revealed it was now in the very early stages of commissioning a review of the plant in light of best available techniques, which is expected to take up to a year to complete.
There is considerably more work to be done but, thanks to this group, we now have the attention and co-operation of regulators and Mossmorran’s operators – and a vital opportunity to scrutinise progress being made.
I’d like to extend my thanks to community representatives for having the faith and commitment to take part in the group work we have been doing.
We’ve had just two meetings to date – this is merely the start of a process which will see some solutions arrived at quickly, others longer – but we will continue in our endeavours to secure the best positive outcomes for communities surrounding Mossmorran.
Pic: Alex Noble