Analysis: We underestimate this ‘Well from Hell’ at our peril, warns explosives expert

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NICK-named “The Well from Hell”, by Norway’s leading oil-industry monitor Bellona, efforts to play down Scotland’s Elgin-rig leak are meeting with similar concerns from a senior Scottish explosives expert.

Here the expert, who has 45 years experience in the sector and work cited by Nasa, explains what must be done to bring the leak under control. He has asked to remain anonymous to avoid compromising his future dealings with Total.

This is the hottest, deepest leak in the world and involves highly explosive and toxic gases. It could prove much harder to seal than BP’s Deepsea incident,” he said.

“If not handled promptly, major sections of the North Sea could be closed to ship, air and fuel supplies for over six months.

No-one is talking about the environmental impact of this huge invisible gas yet they’re relying on air and sea dissipation to make good. Just because unlike oil you can’t see it, politicians and the media aren’t grasping just how serious this is.

“Drilling companies, the Health & Safety Executive and its cohorts need to start listening to facts they might not want to hear if we are to avoid a BP deepsea incident off Scotland’s shores.

“Key to dealing with this leak is to firstly switch off the flare they left burning when evacuating the rig.

“If the wind turns it could quickly ignite gases around the platform, sending explosions down the pipeline and igniting the lower highly volatile hydrogen sulphide causing the rig and pipeline to collapse around the very well-head they are seeking to seal.

Water-hosing from ships could never control that and their operations risk igniting other gases nearby. Access to the rig is needed to help seal the leak quickly or face a BP-type scenario.”

Extinguishing the flare will require HSE cooperation The current no-fly zone is at 4,000ft.

On a balance of risk, they need to allow non-contact technology to be brought in by helicopter at a height 50 metres above the 75m high flame – that is, above the ignition level.

Within the time of one flight to the rig from Aberdeen plus one pilot with bottle, using the specialised technology the flare could be extinguished then work could begin pumping in sealing mud plus horizontally drilling a relief line from a few miles safe distance.

The current proposal of waiting until it burns itself out and hoping the wind remains in the right direction is not a viable option.

It doesn’t sound to me like it can burn itself out.

The description of the leaks sound as if they stem directly from the reservoir itself and are now coming up not just between the walls of the pipe and its casing but also between the casing and the surrounding bedrock.

The hydrogen sulphide gas is so corrosive it can cut through concrete and metal.

The more gas is leaked the bigger the hole becomes – time is of the essence.

There’s a misunderstanding this somehow reduces the risk to drilling a relief well. That is addressed by drilling horizontally below the surface using mud, from a safe distance of a few miles to avoid the machines igniting gases.

It will require cooperation between surrounding stakeholders.

It is do-able if we work promptly and together.