A gas leak at Total’s Elgin platform on Sunday forced the evacuation of all 238 workers.
Below is an interview with Total spokesman Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier conducted yesterday.
A serious incident has occurred on one of your rigs in the North Sea. Can you tell us what is happening?
A gas leak occurred at the end of last week on the Elgin Franklin rig, 240 km from the coast of Great Britain. The priority was to evacuate the 238 employees working there, all of whom were taken to Aberdeen or neighbouring rigs. At the same time, the decision was made to cut all electricity sources in order to avoid any sparks.
What do you know about the circumstances?
What we know is that this leak is not coming from a well dug by Total but from a naturally occurring pocket of gas located just above one of our wells. How did this happen? That remains to be determined, and that is complicating our data collection, in particular as we attempt to establish exactly how much gas is present.
Why have you left the rig when you still need to stop the leak?
The first priority was to ensure the workers’ security. The decision made was the right one. Now, our priority has to be stopping the leak in order to avoid all risk of explosion and also to limit the impact on the environment. Of course, we involved the British authorities immediately and have been cooperating with them ever since. We are sharing all information with all our stakeholders who are, understandably, asking for information.
What are the environmental risks?
There has been some expulsion of condensates associated with the gas. The British Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and our experts estimate the gas pocket to be around 30 m3. That is too much, of course, but according to the British authorities, there is no significant risk for the environment. These condensates should evaporate easily. In fact, the Oil Spill Response has made the decision not to use dispersants.
But all that gas escaping is a risk, isn’t it?
Zero risk does not exist. A gas cloud is always a fire hazard. As a result, we have made every effort to reduce this risk as much as possible. The British authorities have taken protective measures.
Some have noticed that the flare continues to burn on the rig. Is this true?
Yes. The presence of a flare is innate to this type of installation. It serves as a purifier. There is nothing abnormal about its presence. In this situation, the flare is not placed on the same rig as the gas leak; about 100 meters separate the two. In addition, they are not located at the same height. Lastly, the wind is pushing the gas cloud in the opposite direction. At this time, the circumstances are rather favourable.
Is there a risk of explosion?
I have told you that zero risk does not exist. The range of risk is quite broad. All possibilities must be taken into consideration, from the smallest to biggest risk, without speculating uselessly. The quicker we find a solution to stop this leak, the more we limit the industrial and environmental consequences. This is our first and foremost priority.
What are you going to do to stop the leak?
All our teams are mobilized – in Aberdeen, Paris, and even Pau, since that is where our principal technical expertise center is located. We are receiving assistance from the company Wild Well Control to study all possible methods of stopping the leak. Several intervention scenarios are being envisaged. The most effective will be retained, bearing in mind the fact that access to the rig for workers must first be secured. It is for the experts to decide upon the most appropriate solution.
Check out E&T’s graphic on the gas leak.