Fife Ethylene Plant (Mossmorran)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

3. The Scottish Greens are wholly committed to working with the Scottish Government and with other parties as we face the challenge of the coronavirus. I appreciate the on-going briefings provided by the cabinet secretary and the Chief Medical Officer at this busy time.

This week, the skies over Fife were ablaze from flaring at ExxonMobil’s plant at Mossmorran. That light pollution affects communities up and down the east of Scotland and the people living in the shadow of that fossil fuel relic have had their lives made a misery. NHS Fife has said that the plant has a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of people there.

My colleague Mark Ruskell has repeatedly asked for ministers to visit the communities who are suffering. The Scottish Government has refused. The Greens have also called for an independent inquiry into the future of Mossmorran. Will the First Minister finally agree to those simple requests, or is she too close to the fossil fuel industry to hold it to account?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

This is a serious situation, and the tone of the question does not do justice to that seriousness.

I remind Alison Johnstone that, as I understand it, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which is an independent regulatory body, is now focused on concluding an on-going criminal investigation to an evidential standard. It continues to scrutinise different actions. There are on-going, regulatory investigations. The combination of those factors makes it incumbent on ministers to be very careful not to act in a way that could undermine or prejudice that investigation in any way. Ministers are not uninterested, but we want SEPA to be able to do its job and to do it properly.

As I said to Annabelle Ewing, who has been assiduous in raising the issue on behalf of her constituents, I am extremely concerned about the situation. I understand the concerns of local residents. It is important that SEPA continues to take the action that it thinks necessary, and it is important that the operator takes all necessary steps to reduce the impact on residents and to address those concerns. I hope that all members will accept the importance of allowing all those processes to take place properly.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

With the greatest of respect, the

First Minister’s expression of disappointment does not help people in the area sleep at night—it does not do justice to the seriousness of the situation.

The First Minister mentions the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Let me read SEPA’s response:

“Having been clear that flaring must become the exception rather than routine, we’re disappointed that flaring by ExxonMobil has occurred again.”

Our environmental regulator should be protecting our communities, not tweeting its disappointment from the sidelines. SEPA has issued warning after warning. It issued a final warning as long ago as April 2018, but the situation on the ground has not changed. The First Minister could go and visit the community. Paul Wheelhouse has met ExxonMobil to discuss the situation and the community is well aware of that.

Either SEPA is not up to the job of protecting our communities, or it does not have the powers to do so. Which is it, and what will the First Minister do to end the misery that the plant is still causing?

The First Minister:

SEPA is neither of those things. It is taking action. It is right to do so and it has a responsibility to ensure that local residents are properly protected.

It would not do residents any good if we acted in a manner that was prejudicial to the on-going investigations, regulatory and/or criminal, that are under way. My interest is in making sure that the issue is addressed properly, safely and for the long term. That is what I, as First Minister, will ensure that the Government focuses on.