PARIS–Total SA (TOT, FP.FR) said Thursday a specialized crew on a reconnaissance mission to the Elgin platform in the North Sea returned safely, armed with key information that the company plans to use in efforts to stem a major gas leak onboard the facility.
The mission was the first foray onto the Elgin since the vessel was abandoned and powered down 11 days ago after a sudden rush of pressure in a volatile well sent gas and mud spewing out from the drilling deck of the platform.
Total engineers and specialists from Wild Well Control Inc. — the company that helped tackle the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and Kuwait’s raging oil fires — returned after nearly seven hours, most of which were spent gathering “preliminary information” that will be used in preparing further relief efforts to stem the well blamed for the leak.
“The aim of the reconnaissance mission was to carry out a preliminary survey of the leak area, establish zones which can be safely accessed and gather data on the G4 well,” said Total.
Total was able to proceed with the flight after weather conditions in the area of the North Sea that Elgin is located eased somewhat Thursday.
News that the company could proceed with the flight helped Total shares recoup some earlier losses. The stock ended Thursday’s session 0.79% higher at EUR38.21, slightly outperforming the CAC-40 benchmark index, which finished up 0.16%.
Earlier in the week, Total had said a crew could board the platform as soon as Wednesday evening, but a sudden drop in temperatures in northeast Scotland Tuesday caused the weather to become a consideration.
The platform is expected to be secured before two simultaneous operations to address the leak are launched.
The first operation involves pouring heavy mud into the well in the hope that sufficient downward pressure will be exerted to stem the flow of gas.
A second, costlier and more time-consuming plan involves drilling two relief wells to divert the gas. Total has already begun moving drilling rigs into position and initial relief-drilling work is expected to begin around April 8, Total has said.
Total still doesn’t know the cause of the gas leak, but suspects tiny pores and leaks could have formed in the well’s casing due to changes in pressure and temperature, or as a result of shifts in the rocky formation the well passes through. This means that other wells in the same field could also be affected.
Separately, an environmental-montitoring group comprised of local and national politicians, regulators and Total was formed to assess the full impact of the incident on the Scottish marine ecosystem.
The group will be chaired by Marine Scotland, which plans to carry out a collection and analysis of water and air samples from the research vessel Alba na Mara in coming days.
“The environmental risk continues to be assessed as minimal at this stage. However the Scottish Government remains vigilant and we are carefully monitoring the situation and any developments,” said Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochead.
-By Alexis Flynn and Geraldine Amiel, Dow Jones Newswires
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