OWNERS of Fawley refinery have unveiled plans to replace one of the flare stacks at the huge petro-chemical complex.

ExxonMobil is seeking consent for a multi-million-pound scheme to build a new 73-metre stack near an existing one which has reached the end of its working life.

The refinery's four flack stacks enable Fawley to burn off excess gas and have been dubbed the refinery's safety valve.

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But the use of its flaring system - especially at night - can cause widespread alarm among residents on both sides of Southampton Water.

In 2013 Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service was contacted by people who feared the refinery was on fire. A similar incident occurred two months ago, when the emergency services received hundreds of calls about an ominous orange glow that could be seen in the skies above Southampton and the New Forest.

A statement on ExxonMobil's website says: "The flare is a normal and vital part of keeping the plant running safely during unplanned operational interruptions or scheduled maintenance.

"During normal operations crude oil is refined to produce a variety of products.

"During an interruption, such as an unplanned loss of power, the system is occasionally unable to continue its processing and excess hydrocarbons are routed through the flare system.

"There the vapours are combined with steam and burned off, ensuring maximum combustion of hydrocarbons while minimising emissions into the air."

If plans submitted to New Forest District Council are given the go-ahead a new flare stack will be built in the heart of the refinery.

The planning application says: "The proposed installation of the replacement Flare 4 is part of the refinery's ongoing commitment to safety and environment.

"The existing flare to be replaced is no longer viable for repair, having been originally built in the 1960s. The proposed replacement flare will be located on the same block and will be of similar design.

"The approximate height of the new Flare will be around 73m, which is very similar to the existing.

"The flare tip will have the latest technology, reducing smoke generation when operating. The disinvestment of the existing flare will form part of a separate planning application."

Daily Echo:

An ExxonMobil spokesperson said the existing stack "had reached the end of life".

They added: "Subject to planning permission, the new multi-million pound stack will be erected during 2021, be the same height and will feature modern flaring technology.

"The old flare stack will be demolished and removed, subject to planning permission, once the new stack is operational.

"This investment reaffirms ExxonMobil’s commitment to the Fawley site."