Total fights to stem gas leak in North Sea

City A.M. Reporter
OIL major Total is fighting to control a gas leak that has caused a massive evacuation of North Sea workers, and admitted yesterday the problem may take up to six months to resolve.

A cloud of explosive natural gas boiling out of the North Sea from a leak at Total’s abandoned Elgin platform has forced an evacuation off the Scottish coast with an exclusion zone.

The site has been 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 9m cubic metres of gas per day or three per cent of Britain’s natural gas output and lies some 150 miles east off the city of Aberdeen.

Paris-listed shares in Total lost seven per cent yesterday.

Total UK said yesterday it was considering all options including drilling a relief well to stem the massive gas leak, which could take until October.

“There are two options for intervening. One is drilling a relief well which could take about six months. The other is a platform intervention to kill the well... this would be a faster option,” said David Hainsworth, health, safety and environment manager at Total’s UK exploration and production business.

The firm added in a statement: “Preliminary assessments indicate no significant impact to the environment and dispersants are not considered necessary at this stage.”

As well as flying in 10 to 20 specialist engineers, Total has enlisted the services of Wild Well Control, which was heavily involved in BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

UK energy minister Charles Hendry played down the extent of leaking oil, which is a light form known as condensate, spreading over the surface: “The size of the sheen is one-sixteenth of the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Any leak we take very seriously and I think the right measures have been taken.”