Oil giant Total fined £1 million for huge offshore gas leak

Oil company Total has been fined a record £1.125 million for a safety breach that led to a massive gas leak from an offshore platform.

The Elgin oil platform operated by Total leaked gas for 51 days in 2012, with a massive operation needed to plug the problem. Picture: TSPL

The Elgin platform was evacuated of all 238 workers when it started leaking gas in March 2012, as were some sites nearby.

The leak was only stopped after 51 days when heavy mud and cement were pumped into the underwater well.

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In total, more than 6,000 tonnes of gas were released –equivalent to more than 300 road tankers – the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said.

HSE prosecuted the case and Total admitted breaches of offshore installation and health and safety regulations at Aberdeen Sheriff Court yesterday.

The fine is the largest handed down by a Sheriff Court for health and safety offences but the RMT union described it as a “slap on the wrist”. Total said it “regrets” the gas leak.

Environmental groups welcomed the outcome and said they hoped it would make other companies improve safety procedures.

HSE operations manager Russell Breen said: “This incident was foreseeable and entirely preventable. There were a number of failures on the part of Total, which contributed to the blowout.

“They failed to properly calculate the weight of kill fluid required; departed from the proposed well kill plan without considering relevant contingency arrangements and relied on an untested assumption that a sudden uncontrolled release at the wellhead could not occur.

“All of these contributed to them losing control of the well and the sudden uncontrolled release of gas.

“Industry must learn from this, it is an important reminder of the ever-present hazards with oil and gas production, and the need for them to be rigorously managed.

“This could have easily led to loss of life.”

HSE said Total had cooperated fully with the investigation of the accident and shared lessons learned with the offshore industry.

Elisabeth Proust, managing director of Total E&P, said: “We regret the gas leak from the Elgin platform in 2012 and accept the fine handed down by the court.

“Following the incident, Total carried out its own investigation to identify the causes of the incident and what can be done to prevent similar incidents in future.

“We also cooperated fully with the investigations carried out by DECC and the HSE.

“Furthermore, Total has shared the lessons learned from this incident widely across the industry and with the authorities.”