Total stops North Sea gas leak

PARIS Wed May 16, 2012 1:25pm BST

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PARIS (Reuters) - Total (TOTF.PA) has succeeded in plugging a well from its North Sea Elgin platform that has been leaking gas for more than seven weeks, the French oil group said on Wednesday.

The news sent shares in the company more than 2 percent higher. The leak 240 km off the coast of Scotland has been costing Total around $3 million a day in relief operations and lost net income.

"Obviously good news for the group. Final costs are now awaited, but no bad surprises expected," analysts at Alphavalue said in a note. Shares in Total had lost 16 percent since the gas leak began in late March.

Total has suffered several production setbacks. On top of Elgin, safety issues in Yemen and a gas leak in Nigeria are putting a damper on its ability to meet its annual average production target of 2.5 percent growth through 2015 at $100 a barrel of oil.

Total's chief executive Christophe de Margerie has said the Elgin leak would cost the company slightly more than $300 million in lost production in a worst case scenario where production did not restart before the end of the year.

Teams of experts from Total and specialist contractors will closely monitor the well in the coming days to confirm the success of the operation, which involved pumping heavy mud into the well to suppress the gas flow and lasted 12 hours, Total said on its website.

If proved effective Total would no longer need to drill relief wells as an alternative measure. Drilling of one of two planned relief wells began last month.

"Today, a major turning point has been achieved," Yves-Louis Darricarrere, Total's head of exploration and production, said in a statement.

A company spokesman said it was too soon to say when gas and condensate production could resume. The well that was the source of the gas leak was no longer in operation.

The Elgin platform, pumping some 3 percent of Britain's gas output from nearly four miles below the seabed, is one of the deepest, most highly pressurised gas fields in the world.

Output was 9 million cubic metres of gas per day (mcm/d) and 60,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light oil, according to Total.

(Additional reporting by Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier; Editing by James Regan and Greg Mahlich)

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