It may take months to stop North Sea gas spill: Total
LONDON/OSLO A CLOUD of explosive natural gas boiling out of the North Sea from a leak at Total’s abandoned Elgin platform forced wider evacuations off the Scottish coast on Tuesday as the French firm warned it may take six months to halt the flow.
Dubbed “the well from hell” by a Norwegian environmentalist who said the high pressure of the undersea reservoirs in the field made it especially hard to shut off, a plume of gas was visible over the platform, officials said, and a sheen of oil, also produced from the rig, was spreading over the water.
Officials imposed an air and sea exclusion zone around the platform, which had been pumping 9 million cubic metres of gas per day or three percent of Britain’s natural gas output and lies some 150 miles (240 km) east of the city of Aberdeen.
A senior Total manager said the firm was looking at two main options - drilling a relief well, which could take six months, or the faster - potentially riskier - alternative of sending in engineers to “kill” the leak affecting a platform that also accounts for some 5.5 percent of Britain’s total oil production.
But, Total manager David Hainsworth added: “The well itself could die on its own.
This is the dream option.” Otherwise, “There are two options for intervening,” said Hainsworth, who is health, safety and environment manager at Total Exploration and Production UK Ltd. “One is drilling a relief well which could take about six months. The other is a platform intervention to kill the well,” he told Reuters.
“This would be a faster option,” he added, saying a decision on how to tackle the problem would be taken in the coming days. “We are exploring all the options and we are looking at what-if scenarios.” As well as flying in 10 to 20 specialist engineers, Total has enlisted the services of Wild Well Control, which was heavily involved in efforts to cap BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the worst in US history.
Total’s shares dived nearly seven percent in a flat market on Tuesday as it scrambled to present a strategy to deal with the production, safety and environmental issues arising from the rupture of what it called a non-producing gas reservoir where engineers had done some work on a plug a few weeks ago.
As well as gas, Total said Elgin also produces 60,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude oil, exported via the BPoperated Forties pipeline system.
Britain’s total output last month was 1.09 million bpd.