Relief Wells Eyed for N. Sea Gas Leak

Friday, March 30, 2012 @ 11:03 AM gHale

Total will try a two-pronged approach to solve the leaking gas situation in the North Sea: One is they will sink two relief wells to stop the leak, which will work in parallel with a plugging operation, a senior executive said Friday.

The leak, as it turns out, was not a surprise as Philippe Guys, managing director of Total’s British exploration arm, said concerns with the well off the east coast of Scotland first emerged a month ago.

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Total evacuated the Elgin platform Sunday. Guys said Total suspended operations on two floating drilling rigs so the company could use them to drill relief wells if required.

The French energy giant has seen $10 billion wiped off its stock value since the 238 crew on the rig evacuated on Sunday.

Its share price has dropped around eight percent since the start of the leak, which the company says is the most serious problem it has faced in the North Sea.

“With respect to stopping the leak we have launched two main actions which are progressing in parallel,” Guys said. “The first is to carry out the well kill operation using a floating support. The second is to drill two relief wells. To that end we have suspended operations on two of our drilling rigs to make them available for work on the relief wells.”

“Killing” the well involves pumping mud into it at high pressure.

Guys said when the Elgin evacuation order came, all the other wells on the platform “were left in a safe condition”.

He said the first observed “irregular pressure” on the problem well February 25 and an attempt to deal with it came in the following weeks by pumping it full of high-density mud.

“During that process on March 25 we observed a sudden pressure increase followed by escape of mud and then gas,” Guys said.

He confirmed the gas was emerging from the deck of the platform, not below the sea.

As for the cause of the leak, Guys said, “At this time there is no evidence of human error.”

Officials also said aerial surveillance found a flare left burning on the platform after everyone evacuated is now diminishing.

The presence of the flare, left alight to burn off gas in the system, has raised fears of an explosion.

Ahead of the news conference, Total said it was considering dropping water from a helicopter or spraying nitrogen to extinguish the flare.

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