North Sea offshore well disaster worsens — poisonous explosive gas continues to spread

Total’s Elgin platform

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 meters of gas per day or three percent of Britain’s natural gas output and lies some 150 miles 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…

“We are exploring all the options and we are looking at what-if scenarios…” What if the whole thing blows up?

Shipping was ordered to come no closer than two miles from the Elgin platform and aircraft no nearer than three miles if they flew lower than 4,000 feet – effectively shutting out helicopters but not affecting airline traffic.

British officials said the gas, containing poisonous hydrogen sulphide – familiar from the smell of rotten eggs – should disperse in the atmosphere. But it poses a risk to anyone close to the source, making capping the well complex.

Poison in the gas could also threaten fish and other marine life nearby, although the rate at which it dissipates in air and water meant it was not a significant threat to people on landYet.

Populations in and around the North Sea haven’t forgotten the Piper Alpha platform fire 24 years ago. That stands as the world’s deadliest offshore oil disaster. 167 people were killed.

Everyone following the coverage of this disaster – on your world-leading network TV channel? That’s what I thought.

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