Total gas leak: ‘Abandoning rig was hardest ever decision’
THE manager of the stricken Elgin platform spoke for the first time yesterday of his agonising decision to turn on the installation’s “total blackout key” and abandon the rig because of the threat of a potentially catastrophic gas leak.
William Cardno, 56, the Total-operated platform’s offshore installation manager (OIM), was one of the last 19 oilmen to remain on the Elgin 11 days ago to try and find a way of stemming an uncontrolled gas release from the wellhead platform, connected to the main installation by a 90-metre access bridge.
He has now spoken of how the last 19 men on board practised regular drills for an emergency evacuation by lifeboat as they fought a losing battle to stem the flow of gas coming from a reservoir 4,000 metres below the seabed, 150 miles east of Aberdeen.
A video-taped interview with the veteran OIM was released by Total as the French oil giant announced that plans to airlift an eight-strong elite team of specialist well control experts to the abandoned platform had been called off for the day because of bad weather.
A striking infrared photograph, said to show the extent of the gas cloud at the platform, was released yesterday by the environmental pressure group Greenpeace.
In his interview, Mr Cardno said the decision to abandon the platform was the toughest he had ever been forced to make in his 31-year career in Britain’s oil and gas industry.
He explained “We train for this regularly – we have drills every week. I never ever thought this would happen.
“Just as we are leaving the platform, we have to turn the TBO – total blackout – key. One of my colleagues said, ‘I bet you thought you’d never have to do this’ and I said, ‘No I didn’t’. At that point we turned the key and both left for the helicopter.”
Mr Cardno said the handling of the early stages of the sudden gas release two weekends ago had been exemplary. “From when the first alarm was sounded, we had, within one hour, the helicopter on scene and within one hour after that we had 107 people evacuated.
“An hour after that we had 220 people evacuated.
“We kept 19 people on board the platform to evaluate the situation – to see if there was anything that we could do – and really to maintain the systems. So long as the platform was still alive and we had power, we could monitor the fire and gas status on the platform.”
Mr Cardno said he was aware turning the TBO key would cut the flow of data back to Total’s Aberdeen offices.
“We knew that once we turned the key, all that was lost. That information was invaluable in trying to determine what the cause of the incident was.
“Making that decision was definitely the hardest.”
But he admitted that it became clear early on that there was nothing those who had stayed on board could do to improve the situation.
About 12 hours after the leak began on 25 March, Total bosses decided the 19 core crew on board the Elgin processing, utilities and quarters platform should be flown back to Aberdeen, leaving the platform unmanned and powered down.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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Wind direction: West
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