29 March 2012
This is an update statement on the Elgin field gas leak in the North Sea from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Following the safe evacuation of all crew from the Elgin platform on Sunday 25 March work continues by TOTAL, the operator of the field, to assess the options available to deal with the continuing gas release. The situation remains stable.
LOCATION OF LEAK
Using the best data currently available, TOTAL believes the gas is being released from the well system to the environment at the platform deck level, and therefore above water.
TOTAL is working on the belief that a failure of the well system has caused gas to enter another part of the well not normally designed to handle gas.
The point of entry has been estimated at a point 4,000m below the seabed and this is allowing gas to travel contained within the well system to the platform. There is no evidence that gas is being released below sea level.
ACTION TO TACKLE THE LEAK
TOTAL is considering two options to tackle the gas release:
- a Drilling a relief well - TOTAL are mobilising two drill rigs to drill a well to intersect the main well and then shut off the flow of gas.
- a Blocking the well with “heavy mud” - using a mixture containing mineral compounds to be pumped into the well to suppress the flow of gas.
DECC and HSE inspectors are fully updated and briefed in person at daily meetings with TOTAL at TOTAL’s emergency response unit in Aberdeen.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change convened a Government Regulators’ Group yesterday with Government bodies and departments including experts from DECC, the Health and Safety Executive, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Marine Scotland and Marine Lab to ensure the UK Government ‘s response, advised by the Scottish Government’s agency Marine Scotland, is coherent and joined up during this incident. That group will now meet on a regular basis to consider TOTAL’s actions and the Government’s response to the incident.
Clearly this is a very concerning incident but we should recognise that so far the response from TOTAL and Government agencies has been very effective. Everyone has been evacuated from the platform safely and TOTAL are looking at options to stop the release of gas as quickly as possible.
TOTAL has confirmed in their latest update to the Government’s inspectors today that the flare remains lit but observations from the latest aerial surveillance suggest that the flame appears to be reducing in size.
There have been reports, following an interview with Good Morning Scotland on Monday, that Energy Minister Charles Hendry said it was possible to remotely switch off the flare. This was a faithful statement of the information as he was briefed but it has become apparent that this information was misinterpreted.
The Minister would like to make clear the flare cannot actually be switched off remotely.
TOTAL has assured the Government the platform is designed so the flare is located in a position where the prevailing wind blows the gas release away from it. Weather conditions remain favourable for the foreseeable future.
While alight, the flare remains a risk and TOTAL is considering options for extinguishing it directly if it does not go out itself. Three possibilities have been proposed - using a helicopter to drop water or other material to extinguish the flame or using fire fighting vessels, if their fire monitors are capable of reaching the height of the flare. A third option is to extinguish the flare by purging with nitrogen depending on safe access to the platform.
AMOUNT OF GAS CONDENSATE AT SEA
Aerial surveillance is being conducted three times a day. The latest observations found that that the sheen has spread to an area of 22km x 4.5km and the maximum volume of gas condensate in the water is 3.8 tonnes. DECC’s view is that there remains no substantial risk to the environment.
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