Ineos, SSE, and Exxon top climate polluter ‘league of destruction’

The petrochemical multinational, Ineos, is by far the largest climate polluter in Scotland, according to the latest official data.

Five oil, chemical and power plants owned by the company at Grangemouth spewed 3.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air during 2019. That was twice as much as the amount emitted by the second biggest polluter, power company SSE.

Figures released by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) also revealed that carbon pollution from Shell’s gas plant at Mossmorran in Fife has reached a record high. Other pollution from the neighbouring ExxonMobil plant has doubled.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the waste industry have risen 76 per cent since 2010, partly because of increased incineration, Sepa said. Over the same period emissions from the chemicals industry have more than doubled, it claimed.

Environmentalists accused fossil fuel companies of forming a “league table of destruction”, and the authorities of “complacency” over Mossmorran. Waste incineration and industrial chemical plants were “dead-end business models”, according to one expert.

Companies, however, pointed out that they were working hard to cut climate pollution and provided valuable products. Shell regretted its pollution, ExxonMobil said its emissions had “no impact” on air quality and the chemicals industry insisted Sepa’s figures were wrong.

Sepa has published the Scottish Pollution Release Inventory for 2019. It contains details of 47 pollutants released to the air from 1,327 industrial sites across the country.

The top twenty carbon dioxide emitters were dominated by Ineos, which had five Grangemouth plants in the top ten. The Petroineos oil refinery was the second highest emitter, while the Ineos-owned combined heat and power plant was fourth.

The company’s chemicals plant, its infrastructure facility and its oil pipeline were also big dischargers of the climate-disrupting gas. Emission levels from the chemicals plant have been revised following an earlier disagreement between Sepa and Ineos.

The biggest single polluter in 2019 for the second year running was SSE’s gas-fired power station at Peterhead. It belched 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Scotland top carbon polluters in 2019

SiteCarbon dioxide emissions (tonnes)
SSE gas power station, Peterhead1.6m
Petroineos oil refinery, Grangemouth1.3m
ExxonMobil ethylene plant, Mossmorran680,000
Ineos power plant, Grangemouth641,000
Tarmac cement works, Dunbar559,000
Ineos chemical plant, Grangemouth522,000
RWE biomass plant, Glenrothes487,000
Ineos infrastructure plant, Grangemouth 429,000
E.ON wood power station, Lockerbie371,000
Ineos oil and gas pipeline, Grangemouth345,000
Shell St Fergus gas plant, Peterhead303,000
UPM-Kymmene paper mill, Irvine284,000
Viridor energy recovery plant, Dunbar274,000
Shell gas plant, Mossmorran250,000
Norbord paper mill, Stirling210,000
Total gas plant, Shetland208,000
Engie combustion plant, Shetland181,000
William Grant whisky distillers, Girvan165,000
O-I glass plant, Alloa149,000
FCC Millerhill energy recovery plant, Dalkeith132,000
Source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Other major emitters included Tarmac’s cement works at Dunbar, Shell’s St Fergus gas plant at Peterhead and William Grant’s whisky distillery in Girvan. There were also other power and waste facilities, paper mills and a glass maker.

The third biggest polluter was ExxonMobil’s ethylene plant at Mossmorran, despite the fact that it was shut down for more than four months of the year to repair a faulty boiler. The plant’s emissions of toxic tiny particles, carbon monoxide and methane were twice the levels of previous years.

The adjacent Shell plant at Mossmorran saw big rises in carbon dioxide pollution due to increased flaring. Emissions rose 40 per cent between 2018 and 2019, and were the highest since records began in 2002.

Sepa reported that carbon pollution from the waste and waste water management sector had risen from 1,187 kilotonnes in 2010 to 2,094 kilotonnes in 2019.

It also said that emissions from the chemical industry in Scotland had risen from 353 to 720 kilotonnes over the same period – though this is put down to “inconsistencies in reporting” by the industry.

Sepa highlighted that carbon dioxide emissions from all industrial sites had fallen by 57 per cent from 2010 to 2019. This was largely due to the closure of coal-fired power stations at Longannet and Cockenzie on the Firth of Forth.

Between 2018 and 2019 total carbon emissions fell five per cent to 11.3 million tonnes. This followed a three per cent increase in emissions between 2017 and 2018.

Sepa pointed out that carbon emissions from the waste sector had increased by 76 per cent in the last decade “partly driven by a move towards waste incineration instead of landfill for residual waste management.”

Sepa’s chief executive, Terry A’Hearn, argued that the statistics charted “the progress we’ve made as a nation” with some pollutants from some industries decreasing since 2010.

“They also reflect the realism of a modern, Western European economy in transition,” he said. “The successful businesses of tomorrow will be those that are sustainable.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland attacked oil and gas companies for continuing to pump out millions of tonnes of carbon despite the climate disruption it caused. The environmental group suggested that SSE’s Peterhead gas station was being “run hard before it shuts down” – but this was disputed by the company.

“There seems little prospect of real reductions from any of the other fossil fuel polluters in this league table of destruction,” the campaign group’s director, Dr Richard Dixon, told The Ferret.

“Nearly 30 years on from the first global agreement on climate change and ten years on from Scotland’s first Climate Act, it is deeply disappointing that some sectors have actually increased climate emissions over the last decade”.

Dixon described the performance of the chemicals and waste industries as “particularly shameful”. A big part of the rising emissions from the waste sector was “because we are burning ever more waste that we should be recycling”, he said.

Sepa’s former chief executive, professor James Curran, also criticised the waste industry. “Even the best waste incinerators, which generate electricity and maximise the use of residual heat, contribute virtually nothing in reducing carbon in the Scottish context,” he said.

“Industrial chemical plants require fossil fuels for their huge heat demand and for basic process feedstock. In their current form, these are both dead-end business models.”

Curran warned that the waste and chemicals industries would lock Scotland into future carbon pollution. “To retain any social licence to operate, these industries must tell us how they will support, rather than undermine, the Scottish Government’s commitment to net-zero and a circular economy,” he argued.

We had many reports of health impacts from flaring during the year.

Linda Holt, Mossmorran Action Group

The Mossmorran Action Group accused Sepa of doing “scandalously little” to protect the environment and communities in Fife. “ExxonMobil and Shell have made no changes to their operations to benefit the environment or communities,” said the group’s spokesperson, independent councillor Linda Holt.

Pollutants on the rise from the ExxonMobil plant were known to cause cancer, and exacerbate heart and lung conditions, she argued. “We had many reports of health impacts from flaring during the year,” she added.

“Sepa remains far too complacent about Mossmorran because the Scottish Government is committed to maintaining business as usual for ExxonMobil and Shell. Why else did it block the cross-party call at Holyrood this week for a just transition board for Mossmorran?”

Such a board was proposed in a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 29 September by the Scottish Greens environment spokesperson, Mark Ruskell MSP. The ExxonMobil plant was a “fossil fuel relic” that should be wound down alongside investment in alternative jobs, he argued.

Pollution from Mossmorran (photo thanks to Paul Irvine)

ExxonMobil stressed that pollution from its plant was not harmful. “The latest data from Sepa has again confirmed that emissions from the Mossmorran complex have no impact on local air quality,” said a company spokesperson.

Analyses over three decades from health and environmental experts showed that there were “no local air quality issues associated with operations at Mossmorran,” the spokesperson added.

“Our commitment to improving our operational reliability and performance is well documented and underlined by an additional £140 million investment due to commence in April 2021 to upgrade key infrastructure and introduce new technologies.”

Shell pointed out that it had to burn off ethane because it couldn’t be processed by ExxonMobil while its plant was shut down. “We regret the increase in emissions at our plant between August last year and February 2020,” said a company spokesperson.

“To minimise the flaring we restricted the overall amount of gas from North Sea fields and took other measures to limit emissions. However, the plant needed to continue operating, as it performs an important process which enables methane gas to enter the national grid to supply homes and businesses.”

We regret the increase in emissions at our plant.

Spokesperson, Shell

SSE emphasised that its Peterhead power station provided a “critical service” and as a big plant had big emissions. “SSE remains committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its electricity production by 60 percent by 2030 based on 2018 levels,” said a company spokesperson.

“There is no planned closure date for Peterhead,” added the spokesperson. “SSE remains committed to Peterhead as a critical part of its generation portfolio and its future strategy.”

The Scottish Environmental Services Association, which represents waste companies, suggested that Sepa’s figures didn’t tell the whole story. “Energy recovery facilities process the waste left over after recycling which would otherwise have been destined to landfill,” said the association’s policy advisor, Stephen Freeland.

“Every tonne of this waste material diverted from landfill into energy recovery saves around two hundred kilogrammes of carbon dioxide.”

The Chemical Industries Association insisted that, when properly calculated, its emissions had gone down. “The perceived increase in Scottish carbon dioxide chemical sector emissions available through the Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory is due to inconsistencies in reporting,” the association said.

The UK atmospheric emission inventory gave a more accurate picture, showing an 30 per cent fall in greenhouse gas emissions between 2010 and 2018, it argued.

The building materials company, Tarmac, told The Ferret that its Dunbar cement plant played a “vital role” in the building of homes, school, and hospitals. “We are fully committed to supporting the Scottish Government’s ambition of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045,” said a company spokesperson.

William Grant pointed out that whisky and gin production capacities in Girvan had increased. “For over 30 years, we have invested in new renewable technologies to reduce the impact of our distillery operations on the environment,” said the firm’s strategic development director, Stuart Watts.

Ineos did not respond to requests to comment.

Header image thanks to iStock/munro1.

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