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Frequently asked questions

SEPA's 24 hour pollution hotline is always available on 0800 80 70 60 or via our online reporting form.

Contact SEPA as soon as you become aware of a potential pollution incident so we can begin investigations early. Provide as much information as you can, including the location and any relevant details.

If the complaint is related to an odour it is very helpful for you to be as descriptive as possible, so that we can try and ascertain where it may be coming from.

Examples of the odours previously reported from SEPA-regulated activities include:

  • burnt matches;
  • rotten eggs;
  • nail varnish;
  • cabbage;
  • fish.

All contact can be treated as confidential. You do not have to provide your name or contact details.

The more information you can provide to help us understand what is happening, and where it is, the easier it is for us to investigate.

  • Details of the possible pollution.
  • Where it’s taking place - the more descriptive you can be the easier it is for us to find it.
  • What type of pollution it is – air, water, waste.
  • Any helpful details - any odours, any coloured discharge, what time you noticed it, whether you have seen it before.
  • If you can provide a postcode, we can use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to look at what’s in the area in relation to the reported pollution.

All this helps us build up as clear a picture as possible of what is being reported.

It also helps to determine if we are the right organisation to deal with the incident.

On receiving a call, or report via our webform, our operators in our 24 hour contact centre will notify the team (or on call officer if it’s out of hours) for the area where the pollution has been reported.

We have Environment Protection Officers (EPOs) based in 21 workspaces across Scotland from Lerwick in the north to Dumfries in the south. They are responsible for frontline regulation, which includes inspections, working with and advising operators on complying with legislation, and responding to environmental incidents.

The duty officer then decides on the course of action and the report will be followed up by one of our officers.

Depending on what is found on investigation and the severity and nature of the incident, other parts of the organisation can then become involved.

This could be:

  • other Environment Protection Officers (EPOs) for assistance or advice;
  • administrative staff providing clean sampling materials and logging returned samples;
  • our scientists conducting surveys (such as ecology) and working in the lab to analyse samples taken from the scene;
  • our communications team if we need to let others know about the incident or there is media interest;
  • and in some cases, advice from our legal and policy teams if the pollution is serious and enforcement action is required.

Our contact centre staff also work closely with our EPOs and are kept informed of any particular issues. This means that if they get a call about that issue they are able to reassure the caller that we are aware of the problem and can often advise of any action we are taking, especially if it is a site with ongoing problems that the local team are working with to resolve.

SEPA is unable to provide updates into ongoing investigations. We will provide updates when we can, but we must be careful not to provide unsubstantiated details or prejudice any enforcement action we may take.

All callers who contact SEPA to report a potential incident, and provide us with their contact details, will receive feedback on what actions we have taken to investigate their call if requested. However, we may only be able to provide limited details.

SEPA's social media is not monitored 24 hours a day.

The delay in reports sent through social media being picked up can delay our response. This can result in evidence being lost if it is short-lived or transient pollution.

Our 24 hour pollution hotline on 0800 80 70 60 is staffed all the time, and reports sent in using our online reporting form are also handled by our contact centre.

Flares are part of the safety system and are used to burn off gas that cannot be processed safely due to the volumes involved or the gas being off specification. This might be due to scheduled maintenance requiring the plant to be ‘gas free’ prior to entry; or, following an unplanned operational interruption.

Petroineos Manufacturing Scotland Limited has three elevated flares for safety reasons.

Ineos Chemicals Grangemouth Limited has seven elevated flares for safety reasons and also a ground flare for the KG Ethylene Plant.

INEOS FPS Kinneil Terminal has two elevated flares for safety reasons and four ground flares. Two ground flares are currently operational.

Ground flares can reduce noise impacts and are, along with low noise flare tips for elevated flares, recognised as Best Available Techniques for areas like Grangemouth and Bo’ness.

The number and type of flaring events varies year to year. These events can last just a few seconds and minutes to hours and days depending on the circumstances at the time. The primary reason for flaring is safety and events can be either planned or unplanned in nature. In years where there are more planned maintenance activities an increase in the number of flaring events can be expected.

To understand the frequency, type and duration of flaring events that occur, Petroineos Manufacturing Scotland Limited, INEOS FPS and Ineos Chemicals Grangemouth Limited are required to provide quarterly and annual reports to SEPA.

This data is used as part of the regulatory controls applied by SEPA to Petroineos Manufacturing Scotland Limited, INEOS FPS and Ineos Chemicals Grangemouth Limited under their PPC permits. Significant flaring incidents must also be notified to SEPA and an incident report submitted (normally one to two pages in length) which SEPA then follows up directly with the operator.

Flaring events can vary from a few seconds, minutes or hours to days or even weeks. Some events are planned and some are unplanned and the root causes and impacts can vary significantly (i.e. the rate at which gas is flared, steam is managed and whether there is emission of dark smoke or not). Monitoring could not be justified on all occasions and the focus for us as a regulator is on ensuring compliance and working with the companies in Grangemouth to minimise the need to flare and to reduce the impacts.

The main gases burnt in the flares are hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane etc. Other hydrocarbons may also be present as well as hydrogen and nitrogen.

Most of these gases are converted into carbon dioxide and water. Additionally steam is added to the flame to assist in clean burning of the flare.

Petroineos Manufacturing Scotland Limited, INEOS Chemicals Grangemouth Limited and INEOS FPS Limited are permitted to flare for safety purposes. However, there are conditions in the PPC permits relating to flaring which aim to minimise community disturbance and pollution from flaring.

Smoky flaring can be minimised by the addition of steam to optimise combustion. However, excessive steam addition can give rise to noise nuisance and must therefore be carefully managed.

The elevated flares have restrictions on flaring in their PPC permit which prevent flaring of dark smoke for greater than 30 minutes in any hour.

Any unplanned flaring events that give rise to or are likely to give rise to flaring from the elevated flares at rates above the thresholds in the permit, require the operator to follow the incident procedures in the PPC permit. This includes formal notification to SEPA without delay and a follow up investigation report within 14 days to confirm the causes of the flaring event, the environmental impact and measures to prevent a further flaring event due to similar causes.

For INEOS Chemicals Limited the visual and noise impact of flaring is generally minimised by using the KG ground flare; forward planning to maximise flaring during daylight hours; and, minimising the amount of material to be flared. However when the ground flare is not available, or the flow-rates are too great (e.g. in certain start-up or shutdown operations), then the elevated flare is also used.

Ineos FPS Limited FPS is permitted to flare for safety purposes. The visual and noise impacts of flaring are minimised by using ground flares, and ways by which the availability and reliability of ground flares can be improved are currently being considered for this site. These improvements will be part of a permit review in 2019 that sets out Best Available Techniques for flaring and the timescales for achieving these techniques.

Petroineos Manufacturing Scotland Limited

Flaring from the refinery falls into two groups – hydrocarbons containing sulphur and hydrocarbons without sulphur.  As the refinery sits within the Grangemouth Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), which was designated by Falkirk Council for elevated Sulphur levels, flaring of sulphur compounds is more tightly regulated.  There are provisions in the permit for minimising and monitoring the emissions of sulphur and a network of monitoring stations are located in Grangemouth Town and Bo’ness, which can be accessed via air quality Scotland web-site.

INEOS Chemicals Limited

As feed gas is low sulphur there should not be any link to the local air quality management area.

INEOS FPS Limited 

Ineos FPS has provisions in the permit for minimising and monitoring of emissions.