North Sea gas leak shrinks to quarter of early size

LONDON Thu May 10, 2012 1:14pm EDT

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LONDON May 10 (Reuters) - A gas leak at Total's Elgin platform in the North Sea has reduced to a quarter of its original size, its French operator said on Thursday, as it gears up to "kill" the well.

The amount of gas spewing from the platform located 240 kilometres off the coast of Scotland's Aberdeen is down to around 50,000 cubic metres per day from 200,000 cubic metres measured when the leak first started at the end of March.

"Observations made during 11 over-flights of the area by Oil Spill Response Limited confirm visual inspections on the Elgin complex itself, indicating that the leakage rate of gas continues to diminish," Total said in a statement.

Engineers are days away from starting work to kill the well, a risky operation which will involve pumping mud down it to stem the leak and which is dependent on smooth weather conditions.

A drilling platform which was used on a nearby rig before the incident has now been moved to within 30 metres of the Elgin platform and will support the well intervention work.

Meanwhile, workers have been drilling a first back-up relief well around 2 kilometres away from the Elgin platform.

Even though the leak has been spewing gas for nearly eight weeks, fish and water samples from just outside a two-mile exclusion zone around the platform have not shown any signs of hydrocarbon contamination, the Scottish government said.

Total's CFO said the leak was costing the company $3 million a day, or about $1.5 million before tax and insurance for its relief operation and another $1.5 million in lost net income.

But he added he saw a possibility for production at Elgin to gradually restart later this year.

Britain could be facing as much as a 6 percent cut to gas supplies this summer due to the closure of the Elgin and two neighbouring gas fields, Britain's energy network operator National Grid said.

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