Flare on Total's Elgin platform extinguished - CEO

PARIS Sat Mar 31, 2012 11:22pm BST

The Elgin platform in the North Sea is seen in this undated photograph received in London on March 30, 2012. Signs of trouble aboard a North Sea drilling platform where a natural gas leak has triggered fears of a massive explosion began in a plugged well a month ago, operator Total said on Friday. Total said the photograph was taken on March 29, 2012 . REUTERS/Total E&P/Handout

The Elgin platform in the North Sea is seen in this undated photograph received in London on March 30, 2012. Signs of trouble aboard a North Sea drilling platform where a natural gas leak has triggered fears of a massive explosion began in a plugged well a month ago, operator Total said on Friday. Total said the photograph was taken on March 29, 2012 .

Credit: Reuters/Total E&P/Handout

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PARIS (Reuters) - A flare near Total's Elgin drilling platform has gone out, reducing the threat of explosion at a massive gas leak from a North Sea well, the company's chief executive said on Saturday.

"The flare on the Elgin platform was extinguished last night," Christophe de Margerie wrote on Total's Twitter account. A spokesman confirmed the tweet, saying the flame had gone out by itself without technical intervention.

The flare had been lit as part of Total's response to a gas leak at the Elgin drilling platform off Scotland's east coast, to relieve pressure in the well.

Located about 100 metres away from the rig, it raised fears of a massive explosion were it to ignite the natural gas that has been leaking below the platform for six days.

While Total had dismissed the risk of a blast, one engineering consultant warned that Elgin could become "an explosion waiting to happen".

Options to extinguish the flare had included dropping water from a helicopter or spraying nitrogen overhead to starve the flame of oxygen. In the end, the flare went out by itself.

The leak, which began on Sunday, is spewing an estimated 200,000 cubic metres of natural gas into the air per day, forming a highly explosive gas cloud around the platform.

It began after pressure rose in a well that had earlier been capped.

A team of international experts is advising on how to plug the leak and Total said on Friday it would drill two relief wells, a process that could take six months and cost up to $3 billion.

Total evacuated its 238 platform workers, and set up a two-mile exclusion zone for safety reasons, with fire-fighting ships on standby.

A senior union official said on Friday that Total had repeatedly assured workers a leak was impossible until just hours before evacuating them.

(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein; Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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