Total plans to fly staff to gas-leaking North Sea platform

Sun Apr 1, 2012 6:07pm EDT
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By Karolin Schaps and Muriel Boselli

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - French oil company Total (TOTF.PA: Quote), which wants to fly experts to a North Sea oil platform to plan how to cap a well that has been spewing gas for the past week, will discuss the safety of the scheme with British experts on Monday.

Total's Elgin platform is enveloped in a huge gas cloud, and company officials will discuss with the Health and Safety Executive the risks involved in sending experts there on a helicopter.

Total wants to stop the gas leak in two ways - by injecting drilling mud to 'kill' the well, which would involve sending experts to the wellhead platform; and by drilling two relief wells, a safer, slower, more expensive solution.

On Saturday Total confirmed that a gas flare, lit during the evacuation to burn off excess gas, had gone out of its own accord, reducing the threat of an explosion.

The flare had been burning only 100 metres from the site of the gas leak, and its extinction made a return to the abandoned platform considerably less dangerous.

"The company has prepared risk assessments for landing a helicopter on the platform and sending a team to carry out observations at the site of the gas release," an HSE spokesman said on Sunday.

Industry sources said the HSE, which can advise on compliance with regulations but cannot instruct Total how to proceed, was expected to say that both Total's planned projects were acceptable on safety grounds. One of the sources said this advice was expected as early as Monday.

The dual procedures Total wants to carry out will put the well - which is emitting potentially explosive gas - out of commission, at least temporarily.   Continued...