Worries over the possibility of an explosion at Total’s Elgin platform in the North Sea have led the French oil and gas giant to send fire-fighting ships to the gas extraction well. Experts who worked on the Deep Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have now been asked to come to the area as an exclusion zone was established around the platform located 150 miles off the coast of Scotland.
As the gas leak entered its fifth day, experts have become concerned that a change in the weather could result in an explosion. A flame has continued to burn since all 238 employees were evacuated when the leak was found on Sunday. Yesterday Total officials said they were not concerned about the flame causing an explosion because winds were carrying gas away from the flame, which the company describes as “very faint.” But Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier, head of communications at Total, has admitted that any gas cloud could still pose a fire hazard.
Total has not found a way to stop the gas leak and acknowledged that any options to stop it could take as long as six months. That admission is a reversal from the company’s earlier statement that the leak would dissipate from natural causes. Engineers’ work to stop the leak is hampered by the fact that the platform is completely off limits because of the toxic and dangerous plumes emitting from the site. One option is to drill a relief well through 2.5 miles of rock, but the process would have to constantly alter course in order to reach the exact location of the gas pocket.
Total said the leak is costing the company $1.5 million a day, but the Wall Street Journal said if the situation worsens the cost to the company could rise to billions of dollars. Meanwhile memories of the Piper Alpha explosion in 1988, which killed 168 workers, are on the minds on those who work in the North Sea oil and gas fields once again. And activist groups like Greenpeace are criticizing both the changes in UK tax policy that have encouraged increased drilling in the region, resulting in both increased dangers to workers and harm done to the North Sea’s environment.