On 23 August, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency varied the permits of both operators at Mossmorran to ensure that there is a clear timetable and detailed plans for implementing improvements to address flaring.
This week, ExxonMobil announced a £140 million investment at the site, in addition to the £20 million that it invests in maintenance each year. Those actions should improve compliance and reduce the negative impacts of flaring.
This year, more than 1,400 complaints have been made to SEPA about gas flaring at the plant, including from hundreds of people who are raising concerns about health. Although the ExxonMobil investment announced by the cabinet secretary is welcome, improvements will not be seen for a year, and the ground flare is not expected to end until 2024. What discussions is the cabinet secretary having with ExxonMobil to push for more immediate improvements?
I do not know whether the member was in the chamber last week when Paul Wheelhouse spoke about the issue. He met ExxonMobil recently, and he indicated that a considerable part of its investment will go to improving the plant’s efficiency, including its energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from flaring, and improving air quality.
The member will also know that there is an on-going SEPA investigation into all this. It would be sensible to allow the environmental regulator to complete that and then we can come back to the issue with a full understanding of what is happening.
The current shutdown at Mossmorran was instigated following the failure of two of the three boilers. Is any of the £140 million going towards replacing those boilers? Is there possibly still legal action to follow from the repeated permit breaches at the plant?
I am not commenting on possible legal action. As Paul Wheelhouse did previously, I outlined that a considerable part of ExxonMobil’s money will go towards doing what is needed to reduce the frequency and impact of flaring, as well as all the associated issues of noise pollution. As I indicated in my earlier answer, SEPA is looking closely at the issue. It is expected to report in November. When it does, I am sure that we will be back here to discuss that.
In relation to the welcome investment by ExxonMobil that was announced last week, and the 850 jobs attached to that investment, Exxon is to complete its ground flaring design work apace and submit it to SEPA. Perhaps the cabinet secretary could clarify that that is the case, as well as the next step in relation to the best available technique programme. From my recent meeting with Exxon, I also understand that it is likely that the timing of the ground flare programme will be advanced and accelerated.
Given the pressure that ExxonMobil is under, I am certain that it will now do its utmost to reduce the negative criticism that it is receiving.
As I indicated, a significant portion of the money that it is investing will be directed towards the things that people wish to see fixed. At some point, the company was told that its original timescales were not sufficient, so I hope that we will see real improvements happen apace.