On Sunday March 25, 2012, the Elgin platform in the North Sea began to leak gas. Two days later the situation remains unresolved. Today March 27 an exclusion zone has been set up around the platform.
According to the BBC, "Coastguards said shipping was being ordered to keep at least two miles away and there was a three-mile exclusion zone for aircraft."
The Elgin platform lies 150 miles (240km) off Aberdeen, Scotland. Yesterday Aberdeen experienced its warmest March day for many a year. The UK has been enjoying a hint of Summer with a Spring heatwave. At least this has meant that traditional "March winds" have been noticeably absent.
The Shearwater platform and Hans Deul drilling rig are both within a few miles of the Elgin platform. Workers on these two rigs have been evacuated due to drifting gas. Whilst the removal of these workers is said to simply be a "precautionary measure" clearly all is not well.
Total own and operate the Elgin platform. They insist that the situation is now stable but that they as yet have been unable to locate the gas leak. This must mean that the situation is prone to change.
"Dr Simon Boxall, an oceanographer at Southampton University, told BBC Scotland that this was not a deepwater drilling rig and platform but it was unusual in that they were drilling down 5km (3.1 miles) into the sea bed.He said: "It is a very deep well. The gas they are bringing up is what we call sour gas. "That gas has a high proportion of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide and that makes it very flammable and quite poisonous."So the big problem they have got is dealing with a very combustible gas - unlike Deepwater Horizon where we were dealing with crude oil which ironically is very difficult to light sometimes." Further complications.
Dr Boxall said it would be tricky to get close to the leak."I am guessing they are going to tackle it from beneath the surface to start with," he said."On the one hand the Total spokesman said there was no gas bubbling through the sea and yet the observer talked about the sea boiling."It seems unusual that it is not bubbling through the sea and that is going to add further complications of hydrogen sulfide going into the water - certainly causing widespread poisoning in the vicinity of the rig.""
The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change maintains that after monitoring the situation they are confident there is no risk of significant pollution in the area. Total howver has activated its Oil Pollution Emergency Plan. It is obviously a case of watch this space.
At time of writing a "sheen of between two and 23 tonnes of gas condensate, and measuring six nautical miles in length, has been reported on the water nearby"