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Sunday, April 1, 2012

French oil firm Total sends team to fight North Sea gas blowout at Elgin-Franklin wellhead platform

French oil firm sends team to fight North Sea gas leak



France's Total sent firefighting ships close to the scene of a gas leak from its North Sea Elgin platform on Thursday, as a large gas cloud led to fears of an explosion.

The company said the gas originated thousands of metres below the seabed, which engineers said might mean that a relief well -- one possible option to stop the leak -- could take months to drill.

Total has not yet found a way to stop the gas leak.

"The bad news is that the leak is continuing and that it reduces the possibility it could be plugged by sand or other material," Frederic Hauge, head of leading Norwegian green group Bellona, which has a team of oil experts monitoring Total's response, told Reuters.

"The good news is that the flow rate of gas coming to the surface is not increasing."

A flare needed to relieve pressure in the platform by purging excess gas has continued to burn less than 100 metres from the leak, and engineers said changes in wind and weather could lead to an explosion.

A team of international engineers, assembled by the embattled French oil company, are drawing up plans to tackle the leak and prevent the flare from coming into contact with the gas cloud, the spokesperson said.

The platform is currently off limits to the engineers, however, given the toxic and explosive plumes pumping out of the wellhead.

"The wind is pushing the gas cloud in the opposite direction (from the platform). At this time, the circumstances are rather favourable," Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier, Total's head of communication said in an interview published on its website.

"A gas cloud is always a fire hazard," he added.

Total kept two firefighting ships in a state of readiness outside a 2-km exclusion zone, which was set up to protect marine traffic, a Total spokesperson said.

The company also has brought in a robot vessel, not yet deployed, to scan the sea bed for signs of spillage, she said.

The leak started on Sunday and forced the evacuation of all 238 workers from the platform, which sits in waters less than 100 metres deep and 240 km off the east coast of Scotland.

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