Total: Leak Fix ‘Could Take 6 Months’

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 @ 01:03 PM gHale

Oil company Total said it could take six months to drill a relief well to stop the gas leak on its Elgin platform in the North Sea.

The company is looking at several options to stem the flow of gas following Sunday’s incident.

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Exclusion zones are in place around the platform and Shell has also moved staff from a nearby platform.

A cloud of gas was surrounding the platform, located 150 miles (240km) off Aberdeen.

The Coastguard said shipping had to keep at least two miles away and there was a three-mile exclusion zone for aircraft.

Shell has moved 120 non-essential staff from the Shearwater platform and Hans Deul drilling rig, about four miles from the Elgin, because of the drifting gas.

The oil giant said the move was a “precautionary measure.”

Total, which operates the Elgin platform, said the situation was stable but it had not yet been able to identify the source of the leak.

A sheen of between two and 23 metric tons of gas condensate, measuring six nautical miles in length, was on the water nearby, and Total has activated its Oil Pollution Emergency Plan.

“If it somehow finds an ignition source we could be looking at complete destruction,” said Jake Molloy, of the RMT union which represents offshore workers. “Fortunately we have dealt with the human side of it, but the potential exists for catastrophic devastation.”

Wullie Wallce, of the Unite union, called for a full evacuation and power down of all oil platforms within a five-mile radius of the incident.

“The risk may be low but our concern is that if the drifting gas was to hit any of the neighboring installations the results could be catastrophic,” he said. “We would call on the oil and gas industry and the Health and Safety Executive not to take any chances here.”

David Hainsworth, health, safety and environment manager for Total E&P UK, said the situation was “stable” and there had been no major change overnight.

Hainsworth said they were evaluating the options for dealing with the leak.

Options include drilling a relief well, and another possibility could be to carry out a “dynamic kill” — pumping heavy mud into the well to suppress the flow of gas.

Hainsworth also said there was a possibility the leak could stop on its own.

Dr. Simon Boxall, an oceanographer at Southampton University, said this was not a deepwater drilling rig and platform, but they were drilling down 5km (3.1 miles) into the sea bed.

“It is a very deep well,” he said. “The gas they are bringing up is what we call sour gas. That gas has a high proportion of hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide and that makes it very flammable and quite poisonous.”

All 238 workers evacuated the Elgin platform and the nearby Rowan Viking drilling rig by helicopter on Sunday.

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