Total to send expert team to assess gas leak soon

ABERDEEN, Scotland Tue Apr 3, 2012 12:56pm EDT

Total's Elgin Wellhead Platform is seen in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland April 2, 2012. REUTERS/Joerg Modrow/Greenpeace/handout

Total's Elgin Wellhead Platform is seen in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland April 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Joerg Modrow/Greenpeace/handout

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ABERDEEN, Scotland (Reuters) - France's Total plans to send a team of experts on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning to assess the steps needed to stop a large and potentially explosive gas leak at its North Sea Elgin platform, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Helicopter flights resumed carrying crews to North Sea oil and gas rigs on Tuesday afternoon, after adverse weather conditions offshore grounded traffic overnight, preventing the oil company from beginning its relief efforts on the platform.

Strong east to northeast winds are expected in the area on Wednesday evening and early on Thursday with a risk of gales, forecasters from the Met Office said, potentially hampering relief efforts if conditions deteriorate further.

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Elgin gas platform graphic: link.reuters.com/cut47s

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"The team of engineers will be on a mission to assess conditions," Total's UK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications Manager Andrew Hogg said.

Hogg said part of the mission would be to find out whether a so-called "well kill" was feasible through pumping mud into the well and whether any other measures would be necessary.

Another, much more expensive option being pursued in parallel is to dig two relief wells to the source of the gas at 4,000 meters depth, far below the sea bed.

Experts have said that this option could take up to six months to complete and could cost the company billions of dollars.

Hogg said the team of eight engineers would consist of a mix of staff from Total and U.S. specialist company Wild Well Control.

Firefighters and engineers from the Houston-based company are experts at disasters such as oil rig explosions and have been dubbed "Hellfighters" by Hollywood.

The leak, which began on Sunday, is spewing an estimated 200,000 cubic meters 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.

(Writing by Henning Gloystein in London; editing by Jane Baird and Keiron Henderson)

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