Massive North Sea oil spill...similar to Gulf? 2 Years, 5 Months ago
There is a very serious oil spill/disaster emerging in the North Sea, home to Britain's oil wealth - which temporarily rescued that economy from economic collapse. However, with the majority of EASY ACCESS North Sea oil now all harvested, the waning North Sea oil industry is turning to deeper drilling - and riskier projects.
Now Total, France's Oil Oligarch, has announced that a massive spill on one of its deep-drilling risk has not only created the risk of a massive explosion (large enough to force the evacuation of NEIGHBOURING oil rigs); but trying to FIX this environmental catastrophe could take as long as six months.
Our experiences with these Oil Oligarchs, and in particular with BP after the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe suggests that the first reports by these Oil Oligarchs tend to be only 1/10th as bad as is actually the case. So this is definitely a story to watch in the days/weeks/months ahead...
"Total Fights Leak as North Sea Rigs Evacuated on Blast Risk"
Total SA (FP)’s Elgin platform leaked gas for a third day in the U.K. North Sea as neighboring rigs were evacuated to guard against the risk of an explosion.
Total dropped the most since 2008 after France’s largest oil producer said an emergency well may be needed to stem the leak, an operation that would take at least six months. Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) Plc shut down he the neighboring Shearwater field after a two-mile exclusion zone was declared.
“A best case is that the leak stops naturally within a number of days,” Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said in a note to clients. “The worst case is that Total is forced to drill a relief well.”
Total has flown in Wild Well Control Inc. to help battle the leak and stopped work at a neighboring field to free up a rig to drill a relief well. The Elgin-Franklin fields, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) east of Aberdeen in Scotland, supply about 15 percent of the Forties blend, one of the crudes used to price the Brent benchmark for more than half the world’s oil.
The platform was evacuated after a blow-out on March 25 during an operation to abandon a well, Total David Hainsworth, a health and safety manager for the company, said today by phone from Aberdeen. Nobody was injured in the incident.
A vapor cloud was seen rising above the rig today and about 23 tons of condensate, a light crude oil, has been released, Hainsworth said. The well causing the leak remained plugged and gas was coming from a smaller reservoir nearer the surface, he said, adding the leak may exhaust itself naturally.
“It’s unprecedented” in the North Sea, Jake Molloy, regional organizer for RMT union, said in a phone interview from Aberdeen. “High pressure gas flowing from a well with no means of preventing it. We are in the realm of the unknown, comparable to the Deepwater Horizon.”
BP Plc (BP/) drilled a relief well to permanently plug the Macondo well that leaked oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days in 2010 after blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers. The worst accident in U.K. waters was on the Piper Alpha platform in 1988 that killed 167.
Total fell as much as 7.1 percent, the most since December 2008. Shares traded down 5.7 percent at 38.67 euros as of 5:05 p.m. in Paris.
It’s a “serious incident,” Tom Whittles, an Edinburgh- based spokesman for the Scottish government, said by phone. Still, it won’t have a “strong environmental impact on the area” as the condensate will probably evaporate, he said.
Condensate caused a sheen of 2 miles by 0.75 miles yesterday that has grown since then, Total spokesman Brian O’Neill said. There is an exclusion zone in place of 2 miles for shipping and 3 miles for aircraft.
The Elgin-Franklin fields produced a daily average of 61,386 barrels of condensate in November, according to the most recent government data. That’s about 15 percent of all Forties shipments that month, loading data show. Shareholders in both fields include Eni SpA (ENI), BG Group Plc (BG/), EON AG (EOAN), Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp (CVX), Dyas AS and Summit Petroleum Ltd.
“The Forties crude-oil stream should be affected by the problems that Total currently has,” Olivier Jakob, managing director of Zug, Switzerland-based Petromatrix GmbH, said today in an e-mailed report.
Elgin produces 5.5 million cubic meters of gas a day and Franklin 7.8 million cubic meters, according to Total.
Condensate from the fields is exported through the Forties pipeline to Scotland’s Kinneil terminal. Gas is pumped via BP Plc’s Unity Riser into the Bacton Seal terminal in eastern England, operated by Shell, according to Total’s website.
Forties (EUCSFORT) is one of four North Sea oil grades that make up the Dated Brent (EUCRBRDT) benchmark, which is used to price crude from the Middle East, Africa and Russia. The other blends are Ekofisk, Brent and Oseberg.
Summer gas at the U.K.’s National Balancing Point, Britain’s gas-trading hub, rose 0.8 percent to 60 pence a therm, according to broker data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the highest in a week and equal to $9.59 a million British thermal units. A therm is 100,000 Btu.
The Elgin deposit, started in 2001, has a temperature of about 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit), compared with about 90 degrees at other North Sea deposits. Pressure is almost four times that at similar fields, according to Total.
A remotely-operated submarine will be used at the site, O’Neill said. No divers have yet been deployed and it’s not clear when the submarine will arrive at Elgin.
Shell carried out a “partial evacuation” of staff from its Shearwater oil and gas field as precaution, Ross Whittam, a Shell spokesman, said today by telephone from London. Shearwater is about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from Elgin. Output from the Scoter and Starling fields, which passes through the Shearwater platform, hasn’t been affected, Whittam said.
Drilling operations at the Noble Hans Duel drilling rig have also been suspended as a precaution, he said.
Re: Massive North Sea oil spill...similar to Gulf? 2 Years, 5 Months ago
Let me clarify this report by first correcting the headline: this is a NATURAL GAS spill/leak - not an oil spill (although oil is ALSO produced from Total's rigs in the area).
However, because it's natural gas, there is the risk of some catastrophic EXPLOSION as this gas is released. That's because there is a FIRE burning less than 100 meters from this leaking gas - because rescue crews are worried that if they try to put out the FIRE that the build-up in gas pressure it would cause would be an even GREATER explosion-risk.
And so suddenly the scenario goes from being reminescent of the Gulf Oil spill to being more reminescent of Fukushima - with the obvious difference being that at least the natural gas catastrophe won't release any RADIATION.
And just like in Fukushima, the Oligarch involved claims "everything is under control".
Note that these are TWO, separate, simultaneous problems involving these rigs...
"Gas leaks near flare as Total dismisses blast risk"
(Reuters) - Explosive natural gas is leaking from Total's Elgin North Sea platform less than 100 meters from a flare which workers left burning as they evacuated the rig, the French energy company said on Wednesday.
Total dismissed the risk of a blast at the platform, 240 km (150 miles) east of the Scottish coast, and the British government said the flame had to remain burning to prevent excess gas pressure from building up.
But one energy industry consultant said Elgin could become "an explosion waiting to happen" if the oil major did not rapidly stop the leak which is above the water at the wellhead.
Total's share price has dropped about 7 percent in the past two days, although some analysts said the leak did not appear to be as serious as the oil leak that caused BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, the world's worst marine oil spill.
A spokesman for Total UK said the flare was on a separate platform from the leak, albeit only a short distance away.
"The flare is still burning but is not posing a risk. The leak is on the wellhead platform and the flare is on the Processing, Utilities and Quarters platform. There is a gap of 90 meters (300 feet) between the two," he said in the Scottish city of Aberdeen.
David Hainsworth, a health, safety and environment manager at Total, told the BBC the priority had been the safety of the 238 staff of the platform when it was evacuated on Sunday.
Memories are still raw in the North Sea industry of the Piper Alpha platform fire 24 years ago, when 167 people were killed in the world's deadliest offshore oil disaster.
Hainsworth said the flare was still alight, adding that "we don't believe it has been reduced in size". He could not say how long it would take to extinguish the flame, and whether that would be "an hour, or 24 hours or two days" - or even longer.
The British government said the flame was still alight as part of the safety system triggered during the evacuation to burn off excess gas.
"At the moment wind is taking the gas cloud away from the flame and weather conditions are forecast to remain stable for the next few days," said a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. "We hope that the pressure will be such that the flame will naturally go out by itself, but Total are not taking that for granted."
Industry consultant John Shanks said the stakes were high for the offshore industry. "The news this morning that the flare is still burning on the platform is thus unwelcome," said Shanks, who works at RiserTec, a specialist engineering consultancy based in Aberdeen.
"Under normal conditions, the deeper the leak, the more difficult remedial work will be. However, if gas continues to leak at a steady or increased rate over a sustained period of time, the platform could become an explosion waiting to happen."
A spokesman for Total in Paris said a solution to plugging the leak was still being evaluated and it was "a question of days". "We have not precisely identified the cause of the incident," he said.
Total warned on Tuesday that it could take six months to halt the flow of gas in an accident that has thrown a spotlight on the safety record of energy production in the British sector of the North Sea.
Hainsworth said then that some weeks ago Total engineers had decided to pump mud into redundant piping on a gas reservoir which had been plugged about a year ago. This appeared to result in the escape of gas from the outer casing of the well.
The Piper Alpha disaster led to a major review of offshore safety rules, underpinning the Britain's current regime. Industry body Oil and Gas UK said hydrocarbon leaks from offshore rigs have fallen 70 percent over the past 15 years, though figures suggest they remain high compared with Norway.
The UK sector recorded 155 cases of hydrocarbon releases in 2010-2011, against only eight leaks in 2010 alone in the Norwegian sector.
"Obviously the UK has more rigs in our sector of the North Sea compared with Norway, but like for like we're still seeing many more incidents," said one energy union official who asked not to be identified. "This is the type of thing we're seeing more and more, and as a union we're getting sick of it."
Six months ago Total showed Elgin, one of the newer North Sea platforms which is due to keep producing for another 25 years, to a group of journalists, including a Reuters reporter.
On top of its triangular structure on huge yellow-painted ladder legs was a labyrinth of stacks of human quarters next to an enormous on-board gas treatment plant, powered by engines with exhaust pipes as wide as two cars. The platform boasts two gymnasiums and a sea view cafeteria.
Credit ratings agency Fitch said current reports of the four-day leak suggest the unfolding incident was not as serious as the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon platform which resulted in oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
"The Elgin leak is a surface gas leak rather than an underwater oil leak, making its potential for environmental damage far lower than in the Deepwater Horizon case," Fitch said in a statement.
Fitch said accidents like this were unpredictable and difficult to resolve but added it considered the potential was low for this leak to escalate to a crisis on the scale of Deepwater Horizon.
The explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and ruptured BP's Macondo well, unleashing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP struck a deal estimated at $7.8 billion with businesses and individuals suing over the spill.
Analysts' estimates for the costs to Total of the Elgin leak ranged from $150 million to $2.7 billion, depending on how long the company takes to bring it under control.
In the worst-case scenario of an explosion on the platform, however, costs could soar to at least $10 billion, not including possible environmental fines, they said.
FRONTIERS OF TECHNOLOGY
The Elgin well, which pumps about three percent of Britain's gas output from six km (nearly four miles) below the seabed, pushes the frontiers of technology.
With British energy exploration moving from the North Sea into the Atlantic, environmental group Greenpeace said the Elgin incident highlighted the dangers of operating in ever more hostile environments further afield.
"A spill in the Arctic would be much harder to contain and close to impossible to clean up. Yet that is where the oil and gas companies now want to go in their search for more lethal riches," John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director, said in a statement.
Simon Boxall, a marine expert and oceanographer at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, said that what seemed like a very serious incident 24 hours ago now appeared to be settling down, but risks remained.
"There is still a risk and they do need to stop the leak, because a chronic leak would build up hydrogen sulphide in the water. It's a problem that needs solving and it's not doing the environment any good, but it's not a major incident at this stage," he said.
Total said a preliminary assessment suggested there had been no significant impact on the environment. A surveillance flight had spotted a gas cloud heading east and a sheen on the sea surface. Seawater samples had been collected for testing.
Fire fighting vessels were at the field as a precaution and a robot vessel was on standby, it said in a statement.
The loss of oil and gas output from Elgin - as well as the prospect of a big repair bill - helped drive Total's share price down six percent on the Paris bourse on Tuesday and 1.4 percent on Wednesday.
Elgin is one of the deepest, most highly pressurized, offshore natural gas fields in the world.
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