Total's Elgin platform

Total delays gas leak inspection after strong winds

Strong winds have delayed a group of engineers being able to inspect a gas leak at Total’s Elgin platform in the North Sea.

The gas leak was reported on March 25 and forced the evacuation of all 238 workers from the platform. The leak, which began after pressure rose in a well that had earlier been capped, is spewing an estimated 200,000 cubic metres of natural gas into the air per day, forming a highly explosive gas cloud around the platform.

A Total spokesman said strong winds were still blowing the gas cloud towards where a helicopter carrying the team of crisis engineers would land, pushing relief efforts back to Thursday or Friday.

Wind direction was initially forecast by the UK's MetOffice to change by Wednesday evening and through Thursday morning, blowing gas away from the landing point and allowing a team of eight experts to assess the steps needed to stop the large and potentially explosive leak.

Total said on Tuesday the team of engineers would assess conditions on the platform and find out whether a so-called "well kill" was feasible through pumping mud into the well and whether any other measures would be necessary. The company says the gas leak is costing it $2.5 million a day.

Another, more expensive option being pursued in parallel is to dig two relief wells to the source of the gas at 4,000 metres depth, far below the sea bed. Experts have said that can take up to six months to complete, and Total says it will push up daily costs to $3 million.

It said the team of engineers would consist of staff from Total and U.S. specialist company Wild Well Control. Firefighters and engineers from Wild Well Control are experts at disasters such as oil rig explosions and have been dubbed "Hellfighters" by Hollywood.

Two firefighting vessels remain on standby outside a 2-mile exclusion zone around the Elgin platform, Total said.

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