Total Finds North Sea Gas Leak

Thursday, March 29, 2012 @ 04:03 PM gHale

French oil company Total said it found the source of the gas leak from its North Sea platform, as it sent two fire-fighting vessels to the edge of the emergency exclusion zone as a precautionary measure.

Total said it traced the leak to a gas pocket in a rock formation 4km (2.5 miles) below the seabed but 1km above the gas reservoir tapped by the Elgin platform, which the company evacuated Sunday after discovering the leak.

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In an attempt to quell fears about the risks of explosion from the gas cloud that settled above the area, it said there were now fire-fighting ships on standby at the edge of the two nautical mile (2.3 mile) exclusion zone.

Marine experts and oil industry unions said there is a danger of the gas cloud igniting by a flare still burning on the platform, about 100 meters from the leak, if the wind changes direction in coming days.

Union leaders urged oil companies to evacuate every rig and platform within five miles of the Elgin as a precaution. Total said forecasts call for the wind to continue blowing the gas away from the flare, which was well above the gas cloud, and predicted the flare could burn itself out within a few days.

In a statement Thursday night, the company said the flare was burning off evaporating liquids still in the platform’s system. “As these liquids evaporate the flow of hydrocarbons to the flare will exhaust itself and the flare should burn out,” it said.

Total disputed allegations the gas was leaking from the seabed and that it was toxic. It said the gas was escaping from the deck level of the platform, about 25 meters above sea level, and was natural gas.

“This means that we now know the source of the leak, we know the problem,” a company spokesman said. “We can now look at solving that problem as quickly as possible. All our focus is now on fixing it as soon as we can.”

“The bad news is that the leak is continuing and that it reduces the possibility it could be plugged by sand or other material, said Frederic Hauge, head of Norwegian environment group Bellona. “The good news is that the flow rate of gas coming to the surface is not increasing.”

Total has a team of engineers working on contingency plans, including the potential for drilling a relief well to siphon off the gas, or to suppress the leak by injecting mud down the well.

The site remains off-limits, however, because of the potentially explosive gas cloud.

Hauge said since the leak appeared to come from a gas pocket at lower pressure and smaller volume than Elgin’s main reservoir “we move from a worst case scenario to a bad case scenario. But this is not a good case scenario as long as gas is leaking.”

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