The French energy giant Total announced today that it has finally stopped the natural gas leak at its Elgin platform in the North Sea, 150 miles off the coast of Scotland. The Elgin leak, which started March 25, released gas at a rate of 7 million cubic feet a day at its peak and led to the evacuation of its workers amid fears of an explosion. The leak has cost the company $3 million a day and could deny the United Kingdom as much as six percent of its natural gas supplies this summer.
Yesterday Total workers pumped heavy mud down the gas well for 12 hours to “kill” the leak, which had slowed to a quarter of the rate at which gas was escaping last month. Meanwhile the company had starting digging a parallel dry well in order to slow the leak and minimize its environmental impact. According to a Total spokesperson, the leak’s damage has been minimal, based on samples of fish and water taken within a two-mile radius. Operations on nearby gas fields, including one managed by Shell, have also been affected by the Elgin leak.
The fiasco could cost Total as much as $300 million in lost production, as the North Sea gas field is one of the UK’s most important supplies of natural gas. The Elgin platform alone was the source of three percent of Britain’s gas reserves with nine million cubic meters of gas extracted daily. The announcement comes as Total has scrambled to address other other environmental crises, including a natural gas leak in Nigeria that was stopped yesterday after one week.
Total has reminded observers that the company has been completely open about its action within the North Sea and will continue to be so. But transparency aside, the Gulf of Mexico spill has proven that any damage to the local environment from oil and gas spills can take months, even years, until the effects are fully visible and understood.