Red alert in the North Sea around the Elgin Franklin Platform

The gas leak will eventually stop by itself? Technicians will work on the platform for plugging the wells, it’s dangerous operation because of the risk of explosion of natural gas (methane) that escapes. Or will it be necessary to drill another well to relieve pressure, a process which could take up to six months? These are different scenarios considered by the French oil group Total, since Sunday, March 25, a gas leak on the platform Elgin, located in the North Sea, 240 km east of Aberdeen (Scotland). An accident that the group recognized that it is the worst occurred in this region “for at least ten years”.

Wednesday, March 28, four ships took up positions around the platform, whose 238 employees were evacuated on detection of the leak and the around area has been defined as an exclusion zone, coupled with a no-fly zone. There are two boats carrying fire-fighting equipment. A third has an underwater robot with a camera and intended to “inspect the condition of the platform.” The latter is a support vessel usually placed “on standby” near the platform, said a spokesman for Total.

The flare BURNING

In the immediate future, the main risk comes from a flare, which continues to burn, a hundred meters from the wellhead which escapes the explosive gas. The oil facility consists of a set of three platforms: two “well platforms”, located above the hydrocarbon deposits of Elgin and Franklin, a distance of about 5 km, and a flat for production and housing (which was evacuated), connected to the platform wells of Elgin by a 90 meters walkway .

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It is on the production platform that the flare burns. According to the director of health, safety and environment Total, David Hainsworth, the wind pushes the gas currently “in a direction opposite to that of the flare.” Which, in the short term, limit the danger of ignition. But the risk of explosion can not be excluded.

experts of Total believe they have determined the source of the leak. This would not come from the pool of Elgin, located about 5500 meters below the sea level (including 93 meters of water), but a geological formation located approximately 4000 meters deep.

The exploitation of deposits of Elgin and Franklin is in conditions of extreme temperature and pressure (1100 bars and 190 º C). To the point that the oil facility was described as “pit of hell.”

Pierre Le Hir

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