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Fawley refinery blames low cloud for alarm over 'orange glow'

Flaring at Fawley Refinery (picture: Crystal Violet Louise Cooper)
Flaring at Fawley Refinery (picture: Crystal Violet Louise Cooper)

FAWLEY oil refinery has apologised and blamed low-lying cloud for prompting hundreds of calls to the fire service from concerned residents who thought there was a large fire.

The unusually vivid orange glow in the sky on Sunday evening sparked widespread concern after being seen across the Waterside and Totton and as far afield as Lymington and New Milton.

It was a result of flaring at the refinery, a practice commonly used at the site to burn off excess gas.

However, the particularly bright sight prompted many residents to take to social media to query what was causing it, with hundreds also reporting it to the fire service.

One such false alarm saw firefighters from Ringwood and Totton respond shortly before 9.30pm to what was then suspected to be a fire in the open at a farm in Fritham, near Bramshaw.

The fire service posted on Twitter later that evening: “We have received hundreds of calls to an orange glow in the sky near Southampton – Fawley refinery are flaring off which is creating a spectacular glow in the sky.”

The site, which is operated by Esso Petroleum Company and ExxonMobil Chemical Limited, is one of the largest and most complex oil refining and petrochemical manufacturing sites in Europe.

It has a mile-long marine terminal that handles around 2,000 ship movements and 22-million tonnes of crude oil and other products every year.

A refinery spokesperson told the A&T: “Unfortunately, the meteorological conditions meant that the flares reflected off the low cloud, resulting in the flare being more visible to our neighbours.

“Flaring is a safe, controlled and environmentally approved way of burning off excess gas which would normally be recycled and used in our operating processes.

“We apologise to our local residents for any concern and inconvenience this may have caused.”

The spokesperson added: “Our teams have been working to bring the units affected back online. This transient start-up period will take a number of further days and we anticipate that some flaring may continue through the week.

“The appearance of the flare will gradually reduce as units return to service.”

Totton and Eling town councillor David Harrison wrote online that he had seen the “strange flickering orange cloud” from his home. He added: “I thought it was a very large bonfire, much nearer than the real source.”

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