Operation to stop North Sea gas leak could take six months
IT could take as long as six months to drill a relief well to stop a gas leak at an offshore platform, operators Total have said.
The company are looking at several options on how to stem the release of gas which started on Sunday.
All 238 workers were evacuated from the company’s Elgin PUQ platform, about 150 miles off the coast of Aberdeen, following the discovery of the leak on Sunday.
An exclusion zone of two miles has been set up around Elgin, with ships and aircraft ordered to stay away from the area.
Shell have reduced their workforce on two offshore installations close to the Total platform as a precaution.
Around 85 staff have been taken off the company’s Shearwater platform and the nearby Noble Hans Deul drilling rig, leaving a workforce of 117 people.
Shell also said they have brought forward plans for maintenance at Shearwater and are shutting down production in a “controlled manner”.
Total E&P UK, who operate the Elgin platform, said they were taking “all possible measures” to try to identify the source and cause of the leak and to bring it under control.
The company are considering various options for dealing with the leak, one of which is drilling a relief well which could take six months.
David Hainsworth, health, safety and environment manager for Total, told the BBC the situation poses risks.
He said: “The gas is flammable but the platform power was turned off to minimise risk of ignition but clearly there is a risk. We have taken away a series of risks but there is always a possibility. It’s low but you never say never.
“The best-case scenario is that the gas in this area is not very productive and it dies off in the coming days and weeks.”
A sheen on the water is present near the platform, estimated to extend over 4.8 square kilometres (1.85 square miles) and measures between two and 20 tonnes in volume.
Total insisted its preliminary assessments indicate there has been no significant impact on the environment because of the leak.
Offshore union RMT welcomed the quick evacuation of the platform but called for urgent action to stop the leak.
RMT offshore organiser Jake Molloy said: “Total acted very swiftly in getting everyone off but the potential still exists for catastrophic devastation.
“If the gas cloud somehow finds an ignition source we could be looking at complete destruction.
“This is an unprecedented situation and we really are in the realms of the unknown but the urgent need now is to find a way of stopping the flow of gas.”
RSPB Scotland called for transparency from Total.
Director Stuart Housden said: “We hope that, second to minimising risks to people, environmental considerations will be foremost in the mind of Total when considering their response to this situation.
“We urgently need to know exactly what environmental impacts the leaking substances could have.”
The Scottish Government said it is monitoring the developments.
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Efforts by Total to resolve the gas leak are ongoing.
“As the situation currently stands, impact on the environment, which is the Scottish Government’s area of responsibility, is minimal.”
Total E&P UK said it met the Secretary of State’s representative, the Health and Safety Executive, the Department of Energy and Climate change, Marine Scotland and the Coastguard yesterday.