FRENCH energy giant Total is planning to begin a two-pronged attack to stem the uncontrolled gas leak on its Elgin platform within a week to ten days.
Reconnaissance on Thursday by a team of specialists confirmed the way was clear to plug the leak by pumping in mud at high pressure, killing the well, or drilling two relief shafts to stem the gas flow.
“Hellfighters” from Texas-based Wild Well Control and Total experts spent four hours surveying the abandoned Elgin complex after touching down on the main platform by helicopter two days ago.
A Total spokesman said the experts had found no gas on the Elgin PUQ (Process, Utilities, Quarters) platform, which is connected by a 90-metre bridge to the Well Head Platform (WHP) where the gas is leaking from the G4 well at the rate of 200,000 cubic metres a day.
He said: “The access routes to the WHP were also found to be free of gas.
“The team was able to access the rig. The structural condition of the platform, the G4 wellhead and surrounding areas, including the rig, was found to be unchanged since the complex was evacuated on 25 March, as was the overall safety situation.
“The visual inspection confirmed the leak is coming from the G4 wellhead at WHP deck level. In parallel, a ROV [remote operated vehicle] survey confirmed no underwater gas leak.”
Total is planning three more reconnaissance flights before work to stem the leak begins.
A member of the Wild Well Control team said: “We achieved our goals. Everything went as hoped and the planned well intervention is achievable. There is certainly no showstopper.”
Scottish environment minister Richard Lochhead held talks with Total management in Aberdeen on Friday.
Afterwards, he said: “Total told me the trip to the platform was very, very helpful in terms of the information gathered and the fact that they were able to deploy people on the platform safely.
“They now plan more such trips in the coming days because there are now two solutions they are pursing to plug the leak – the surface solution of plugging the well with mud or drilling relief wells.
“What they are going to – and both solutions should be under way within a week to ten days – is run [them] at the same time. They are deploying equipment and vessels to come to the North east of Scotland that will then head out to sea. It is good that the company is pursuing both options at the same time so it can choose the best option.”
The Scottish Government’s marine survey vessel, Alba na Mara, left Fraserburgh on Friday for the vicinity of the Elgin complex, where scientists will be taking water, sediment and fish samples to assess the impact of the leak. The boat is due to return tomorrow night to allow detailed analysis to begin on Monday.
Mr Lochhead said: “I don’t anticipate any evidence of any detrimental impact on the marine environment.
“Samples from our tests should be available early next week so we will have a better idea of the situation then.”
He stressed: “The evidence, so far, is that there is a minimal impact on the marine environment. We are talking about a gas cloud which, above water, disperses quite quickly and in terms of the condensate sheen on top of the North Sea that also disperses in time.”
He added: “I am satisfied at the moment that there is openness and there is transparency and we are getting facts and information from the oil company.
“They are deploying a significant amount of resources to try to get this gas leak stopped which is the most important thing.
“And the sooner that happens the better it will be for the marine environment and of course the oil and gas industry and the company themselves.”