Statoil evacuates North Sea platform due "unstable" well

OSLO Fri May 21, 2010 3:48am EDT

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OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian oil and gas producer Statoil said on Friday it had evacuated the Gullfaks C platform in the North Sea after changes in well pressure led to a fault on one of two valves designed to prevent a blowout.

Environmental group Bellona said the situation was "very critical" and highlighted continued risks of offshore oil and gas exploration in the wake of BP's well blowout and environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

"There are no leaks and no injuries," Statoil spokesman Gisle Johanson said. "The situation on the platform is stable and we are planning for further operations to normalize the situation."

Johanson said the evacuation of about 90 people was caused by an "unstable pressure situation" in a Gullfaks well, which he said meant "too much or too little" pressure.

"They have a situation in which there is uncontrolled pressure from the well, one of the barriers is gone and one barrier is left," said Frederic Hauge, head of Bellona, one of the leading environmentalist groups in Norway.

"Uncontrolled pressure is very serious and has the capability of being a large accident," he said, adding that in the first quarter of 2010, eight incidents took place in the Norwegian oil industry that had "large scale potential."

"That is very serious," Hauge said. "Regulatory work in Norway may look nice from outside, but we have a lot of security issues in the Norwegian industry," he said.

Gullfaks is an oil and gas-producing field in the Tampen area of the Norwegian section of the North Sea. It produces 78,000 barrels of oil per day and 420 million standard cubic meters of gas per year.

Gullfaks C is one of three platforms at the site, which handle oil and gas from the Gimle, Tordis, Vigdis, Visund, Gullfaks and Gullfaks Soer fields.

The sea depth at the site is 130 to 220 meters, with the reservoirs 1,700 to 2,000 meters below the sea level.

Statoil is the majority owner in the field with 70 percent, with Norwegian-state owned firm Petoro the minor partner with 30 percent.

(Editing by James Jukwey)

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