North Sea gas leak: Ten other wells will need testing, admits Total

View of the Elgin Well Head Platform (Total E&P)
View of the Elgin Well Head Platform (Total E&P)
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THE UK boss of French energy giant Total has admitted that stringent tests will have to be carried out on all the wells feeding into the Elgin offshore complex before production can resume, once the uncontrolled gas leak on the main processing platform has finally been stemmed.

Yesterday, almost three weeks since the potentially explosive gas cloud shrouding the platform forced the complete abandonment of the Total installation, gas was continuing to spew from the well head area at a rate of 20,000 cubic metres a day.

Total has yet to give a starting date for plans for a dynamic well kill operation – the quickest of the two options for stemming the flow of gas – which will involve pumping heavy mud into the rogue G4 well, 150 miles east of Aberdeen.

The G4 well is one of 11 wells in the Elgin formation. Three were appraisal wells and have been abandoned and never produced gas. The G4 well had been plugged and was in the process of being abandoned when the release happened.

Phillipe Guys, the managing director of Total UK, has made it clear that, even after the company regains control of the leaking well, all the other wells will have to be individually checked for faults before production can resume.

He said: “We need to make sure we get these things right and understand what happened.

“We need to verify, as you may realise, from the first wells that we drilled and from the last well that we drilled on this platform, there has been an evolution of the architecture of the wells and they have changed, progressed and improved. We are going to look at the statuses on the other wells and see what we need to do to make sure there’s a safe environment to start up production.

“There is no way we can go and rush to start up production until we are sure we can do it safely.”

Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the RMT union, said: “I am no oil well engineer but if you have an unknown failure of one well, I would say it would be common sense to have concerns about the others being compromised in a similar way. What they have got is an unknown and until they have determined the facts, it is impossible to move forward.”

The results of the first chemical analysis tests on water, sediment and fish samples are expected to be released by the Scottish Government on Monday. But a detailed report from the Government Interest Group, convened by the Department of Energy and Climate Change following the gas leak, has confirmed that, so far, there is no indication that the incident has resulted in a “significant” environmental impact.

The group’s report states: “The sheen is being allowed to disperse naturally.”