The oil multinational, Shell, has apologised after being fined £40,000 for breaching the rules on reporting climate pollution at its Mossmorran petrochemical plant in Fife.

The fine was imposed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) after Shell admitted to a “metering error” which underestimated the amount of propane gas emitted to the environment in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Critics have accused Shell of “stumbling” over environmental compliance and claimed community trust is “zero”. The company expressed “regret” and stressed that it had detected and reported the error.

The Ferret reported on 9 July that documents released by the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed that Shell had repeatedly failed to reduce the risks of major accidents at Mossmorran.

The company is also under investigation by Sepa and HSE – along with ExxonMobil which operates an adjacent plant at Mossmorran – after four unplanned flaring incidents in 2017 and 2018.

Shell and ExxonMobil accused of ‘putting profit before safety’ in Fife

Shell operates a plant at Mossmorran that processes and distributes up to 12,500 tonnes of gas a day from the North Sea. It is obliged under the European Union emissions trading scheme to accurately report its climate pollution, as part of a scheme aimed at driving down emissions.

But according to Shell a “technical error” led to emissions from a propane unit being “under reported” for three years up to 2015. The error was detected in March 2017, reported to Sepa and investigated, the company said.

Sepa pointed out that the EU emissions trading scheme was key to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and meeting climate change targets. “The scheme requires operators to accurately monitor annual emissions, submit an annual verified report of reportable emissions and subsequently surrender allowances equal to those annual reported emissions,” said a Sepa spokesperson.

“Following a metering error related to the under-reporting of propane volumes, Shell self-reported the issue to Sepa and has worked to investigate and prevent a re-occurrence. Whilst clear that compliance is non-negotiable, Sepa is satisfied that Shell moved quickly to report and resolve the issue, paying a £40,056 penalty using a prescribed formula.”

According to its website, since March 2016 Sepa has imposed nine other fines varying from £728 to £56,884 on eight companies that breached emissions trading rules. In 2012 it was reported that ExxonMobil was fined £2.7 million for failing to report 30,000 tonnes of climate pollution from Mossmorran.

Companies fined for breaking climate pollution rules

DateCompanyFine
July 2018Shell£40,056
June 2018ENGIE FM£35,224
December 2017Hillhouse Quarry Group£31,533
May 2017Marathon Oil Corporation£56,884
May 2017Simec Lochaber Hydropower 2£728
February 2017Aggregate Industries£6,854
February 2017Repsol Sinopec Resources£40,501
July 2016DSM Nutritional Products£4,690
March 2016Aggregate Industries£2,812
March 2016Talisman Sinopec Energy£40,804
2010ExxonMobil£2.7 million
source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency

The Green MSP for mid Scotland and Fife, Mark Ruskell, warned that errors were likely to re-occur at Mossmorran. “This is a significant breach of regulations by Shell and yet another example of the company stumbling over environmental and safety compliance,” he said.

“Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is a collective responsibility for all of society, and it’s not enough to just say sorry and move on. The issues that need to be addressed in Sepa and the HSE’s current investigation are now stacking up, and it seriously needs to consider whether this plant can continue to operate as it is.”

The local Mossmorran Action Group argued that the only way to restore trust in the plant was an independent investigation into all its impacts. The group also called for tougher regulation and independent real time monitoring.

“Shell is trying to take credit for reporting the omission but given the heightened public scrutiny Mossmorran operators have been subject to in the last year, perhaps they had little choice,” said action group spokesperson, James Glen.

He questioned why local communities weren’t told of the error when Shell discovered it in March 2017. “As ever, Shell’s PR machine is seeking to control the narrative, since the £40,000 fine means the story can no longer be kept from public view,” he added.

“How many other things have the operators failed to report? After all, the plant is ageing and becoming ever more prone to breakdown, so that emergency flaring is now a regular occurrence. Community trust in what Shell say is zero.”

Shell emailed local community representatives on 12 July “apologising for the technical error” as notification of the fine was posted on Sepa’s website. “We had under reported propane unit volumes by approximately 0.5 per cent of total plant volumes,” said Shell plant manager, Teresa Waddington.

“We regret that this happened. Shell UK has since submitted revised data and surrendered allowances to correct the situation. The inadvertent reporting error had no impact on actual levels of carbon dioxide emitted by the plant.”

A company spokesperson added: “Shell identified an issue with a historical emissions reporting calculation, corrected the calculation and immediately disclosed updated data to Sepa to rectify the error.

“We very much regret this situation. Shell prioritises the safety of our staff, community and care for the environment.”

Photo thanks to Peter Moore, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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