A flare that threatened to cause an explosion at a North Sea platform has gone out, Total said, but a plume of highly flammable gas was still leaking from the stricken rig.
“We can confirm that the flare has been extinguished,” said Brian O’Neill, spokesman for French energy giant Total from the company’s makeshift crisis center in Aberdeen, 240 kilometers from the offshore Elgin platform.
“It extinguished itself, which is what we expected to happen,” he said.
There were fears the gas cloud, which continues to leak from the platform at a rate of an estimated 200,000 cubic meters per day, could come into contact with the flame and ignite, causing a massive explosion.
While one immediate danger extinguished, another quickly came to the fore.
“There is still a gas escape, and clearly escaping gas is always at risk of ignition and explosion,” said Total’s U.K. communications manager Andrew Hogg.
“But one factor has been taken out of the equation, and therefore we are in a better place than we were during the week,” he added.
A spokesman at the firm’s Paris headquarters said Total was losing $1.5 million in revenues every day as a result of the shutdown of production at Elgin.
The leak also forced Shell to halt production at its Shearwater platform and Noble Hans Deul rig 6.5 kilometers away and remove 85 crew members on safety concerns.
The company is preparing to sink two relief wells to stop the gas leak, first spotted March 25, in parallel with an operation to pump “heavy mud” into the well at high pressure.
The company is moving in two drilling rigs from elsewhere in the North Sea to drill the relief wells.
“Once they’re there, we’ll have to do preliminary work before we start drilling, such as surveys to assess the seabed,” O’Neill said. “This takes a little time. The preliminary work has started already, but it will be seven to 10 days before we are in a position to start drilling.”
Total’s Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie said the firm planned to deploy “special firefighters” to help stop the leak.
“The leak is coming from a natural rock formation, not an exploited reservoir.”
A sheen of gas condensate stretching several kilometers spread over the water around the platform in the days after the leak, but Total said it was evaporating.
“We don’t think the incident poses a significant threat to the environment,” said O’Neill.