THE refinery run by the petrochemical giant Ineos at Grangemouth has been condemned for its “poor” environmental performance for the second year running following a series of pollution blunders.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has given the refinery one of its lowest performance ratings because of nine incidents that caused pollution in 2016. It was also assessed as poor in 2015.

Documents released by Sepa under freedom of information law also reveal that there was a gas leak under a road at the site on March1 this year. Last Tuesday, workers had to be evacuated and a public road closed at Grangemouth when another leak was detected at Ineos’s Kinneil Gas plant.

The revelations sparked concern over the company’s fracking ambitions. Ineos, however, points out that four other Sepa assessments at Grangemouth were good or excellent, and is pleased with its overall performance.

Sepa assesses the environmental performance of all industries in Scotland, on a scale ranging from “excellent” to “very poor”. The main incident that caused the Ineos refinery to be rated as “poor” in 2016 was a major discharge of sulphur on May 9 .

There were five other unplanned sulphur discharges in 2016, all by flaring.

Another Ineos report to Sepa disclosed that there was a gas leak on March 1 this year from a culvert under the road at the junction of Overton Road and 3rd Street. This resulted in unplanned flaring and the discharge of 16 tonnes of sulphur over ten days.

An investigation is also underway into a gas leak on May 2 at the Kinneil Gas plant run by Ineos at Grangemouth. It caused a scare locally after emergency procedures led to road closures and site access restrictions while the leak was being isolated.

Grangemouth Community Council expressed concern about the refinery’s poor assessments. “The most disappointing aspect is the frequency with which failures are occurring,” said the council’s vice convener, Walter Inglis, adding that "lessons are not being learned and improvements made.”

Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the occupational and environmental health research group at the University of Stirling, pointed out that minor failings could be catastrophic at complex plants.

“When a regulator like Sepa finds a company like Ineos at Grangemouth has a poor pollution record for consecutive years, sometimes for problems supposedly fixed in previous years, that is a cause for real concern,” he said.

Friends of the Earth Scotland described the disclosures about the refinery’s record as “alarming”. Regulators should intervene with “the full force of the law”, argued the environmental group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.

Ineos is bidding to frack for shale gas between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the Scottish Government is due to decide whether to allow it to go ahead later this year.

The Labour MSP for Central Scotland, Richard Leonard said. “I think the time has come for Sepa to establish a permanent base in Grangemouth.”

Sepa insisted it would get tough when necessary. Its chief executive, Terry A’Hearn added, “As a result of tighter controls applied by Sepa and investment by Ineos there have been significant reductions in overall emissions of sulphur dioxide which is reflected in the improvement in air quality in Grangemouth in recent years.”

The refinery is only one of several plants operated by Ineos at Grangemouth, and the company argued it was “bias” to only focus on its poor rating. “Ineos would like to point out that Sepa has rated the Grangemouth site, Scotland’s largest industrial site, as being excellent or good in four out of five of its compliance assessment scheme reports in 2016,” said the company’s communications manager, David East.