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Total UK says no evidence of human error behind North Sea gas leak

30 March 2012

At as press conference in Aberdeen on March 30, Total UK's managing director Phillipe Guys said: "At this time there is no evidence of human error." He was giving an update on progress to tackle the leak, which forced the evacuation of all 238 workers on the Elgin platform and a nearby drilling rig, about 150 miles off the coast of Aberdeen, when it was first discovered on March 25.

Total UK managing director Phillipe Guys said there were no problems with the other wells on the Elgin field
Total UK managing director Phillipe Guys said there were no problems with the other wells on the Elgin field

About 200,000 cubic metres of gas have been escaping every day from the Elgin platform, he said, adding that there has been "little change" in the past five days. Proposals to stop the leak include ‘killing’ the well with mud and drilling relief wells which could take as long as six months. Two drilling rigs have stopped work on other wells in the area to assist, if required.

Guys said: "We are suspending the wells in order to release these drilling rigs to intervene and be able to drill relief wells from a location that we're going to identify. We have also mobilised a strong team of specialists from the group, and international specialists.

"The question has been asked if there could be similar problems with other wells on Elgin. What I can tell you is that when the platform was evacuated, all other wells were left in a safe condition."

According to the latest information, the gas is coming from a rock formation above the main reservoir, at a depth of 4,000m. It is then escaping into the air from a leak on the platform at the top of the well, about 25 metres above sea level. Total said there is minimal risk from a flare, which continues to burn about 150 metres above sea level. Surveillance flights show the flare is weakening, and icould extinguish itself in the near future.

Total said the main gas-producing reservoir for the installation, situated at a depth of 5,500m, had been plugged for more than a year, but problems with the G4 well were first noticed on February 25. The company then injected mud to block off the gas, but on March 25, a large increase in pressure led to the mud being expelled and gas escaping into the atmosphere. 

Guys said Total has a few staff on a neighbouring platform to keep an eye on developments. He also said he wanted to "commend everyone" for ensuring the safety of personnel during and after the escape.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry said the emergency plan in the wake of the gas leak had been "delivered as intended". He said about 3% of the total output from the North Sea had been lost by the shutdown.

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