OFFSHORE industry leaders breathed a massive sigh of relief as work began to restore the flow of oil through the giant pipeline system which handles production from the platforms responsible for ten per cent of Britain’s oil and gas output.
Almost 100,000 barrels a day of North Sea oil production has already been lost since Monday as a result of the leak in one of the giant legs on Taqa’s Cormorant Alpha platform, 94 miles east of Shetland.
The ageing platform is a vital production and pumping hub for the giant Brent pipeline system which handles production from 27 oil fields in the northern North Sea, feeding into the Sullom Vie oil terminal on Shetland.
And the discovery of the leak had led to the shutdown of oil output, estimated to be worth £10 million a day, through the 95 mile pipeline system. The shutdown has also hit gas supplies to the giant St Fergus gas terminal near Peterhead.
Offshore experts have been working around the clock to find a way of bypassing the Cormorant Alpha platform since the discovery of the leak on Monday afternoon.
And last night, a spokeswoman for Taqa Bratani, part of the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, announced: “Taqa has begun the process of restoring the flow of an estimated 80,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in the Brent pipeline system following a precautionary shutdown on Monday.”
She continued: “The pipeline system, which is operated by Taqa and runs through the Cormorant Alpha platform, was halted after a small hydrocarbons release in one of the platform’s legs. Investigations have found there is no connection between the Brent pipeline system and the pipeline involved in the release.
“The process of restarting Brent throughput follows a thorough technical evaluation that shows it is safe to do so without any increased risk to Cormorant Alpha. The hydrocarbons released are contained within the platform leg and none have been released into the environment. Hydrocarbon levels in the leg have been continually monitored since the release was discovered.
“Measurements within the leg show that the volume released is small. Work is under way to mitigate the release of hydrocarbons, and preparations are being made to stop it and effect repairs.”
The spokeswoman explained that a total 27 fields, including subsea tiebacks, had been affected by the leak. The platforms affected by the pipeline shutdown, in addition to Cormorant Alpha, are Dunlin, Thistle, Murchison, North Alwyn, Tern, Eider, and North Cormorant.
The spokeswoman explained: “Cormorant Alpha normally handles about 90,000 bpd of crude oil feeding the Brent pipeline system, including approximately 10,000 bpd in Cormorant Alpha production. Cormorant Alpha production remains closed while work on the platform leg continues.”
Experts had already stressed that the shutdown was unlikely to have any significant impact on oil supplies or petrol prices - unless there was a major delay in resuming the flow of oil through the Brent system.
Mike Tholen, Oil and Gas UK’s economics director, said the shutdown of the Brent system had affected around ten per cent of daily production from the UK Continental Shelf. But he claimed it was unlikely to have a significant impact.
Speaking before restart announcement, he said: “Clearly the Taqa incident doesn’t help production from the North Sea but the companies are on top of things and they are looking forward to making sure production is as good as it can be in the circumstances. There may be some small impact on the import of oil but much of this oil is sold internationally, not least around Europe. I am very confident this will not severely impact either petrol prices or oil prices in the UK.”
Mr Tholen continued: “We estimate that oil usually produced from the fields that are currently shut down across the Brent Pipeline System accounts for about ten per cent of UK oil production. We have offered support to Taqa Bratani during the incident and await more information on how long the shutdown is likely to last.”
Yesterday the price of crude oil edged up towards $111 a barrel, recovering slightly from a drop which followed the shutdown of the Brent pipeline system.