THE operator of a North Sea platform that has been leaking gas for several weeks has been granted approval from the Government to “kill” the well by pumping heavy mud into it.
• All 238 staff were evacuated from the North sea platform
• Department of Energy and Climate Change approves plan to start “kill” operation
• Amount of gas leaking has already been reduced by a third due to drilling a relief well two weeks ago
All 238 staff were evacuated from the Elgin platform, around 150 miles off the coast of Aberdeen, when it began leaking gas on 25 March.
At one point about 200,000 cubic metres of gas leaked from the platform every day but that was reduced by two-thirds when workers started drilling a relief well two weeks ago.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has approved the company’s plans for a kill operation which could start next week.
A spokesman for operator Total said: “DECC has carried out a full environmental assessment of the operation and confirmed it has no objections to this intended activity.
“The Government and Total have been working hard to ensure the Elgin gas release is dealt with as quickly and as safely as possible, with minimal impact on the environment.
“The semi-submersible drilling rig, the West Phoenix, moved within the current exclusion zone around the platform ready to position itself directly alongside the complex.
“This dynamically positioned rig will be the main support vessel during the forthcoming well intervention operation and will be used to pump heavy mud into the G4 well in order to stop the leak.
“Total is on track to begin the intended well intervention operation within the coming days, subject to continuing favourable weather.”
Two options are being worked on by the company to stop the leak: blocking the well with mud and drilling a relief well to try to capture the gas.
Experts say pumping mud into the well is a cheaper and faster option but it could be more dangerous because it needs people to re-board the Elgin platform.
The spokesman said the drilling of the relief well, 1.2 miles (2km) east of the platform, was “making good progress”.
Earlier this week chemical tests were said to have found no traces of hydrocarbon contamination on fish near the leaking platform.
The analysis was carried out two weeks after an initial investigation.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “All of the chemical and sensory testing work carried out by Marine Scotland on the effects on the marine environment of the leak has now concluded that there is no direct impact. Chemical testing of fish samples have found no evidence of contamination, which is of course reassuring.
“It’s also encouraging that Total has confirmed that the gas leak has significantly slowed. I remain hopeful that this incident can be resolved as safely and quickly as possible, with the environmental impact minimised.”