News

Natural Gas Leak Continues in North Sea

Elgin platform, owned by the French firm Total, in undated photo received in London, March 30, 2012.
Elgin platform, owned by the French firm Total, in undated photo received in London, March 30, 2012.
Al Pessin

An offshore drilling platform owned by the French firm Total is continuing to spew large amounts of natural gas into the surrounding sea and air, nearly a week after the leak started.

The 238 people who worked on the platform off the east coast of Scotland were evacuated as soon as the leak started. As they left, the workers turned off the electrical power to reduce the chance of a spark igniting the gas, but they did not extinguish a flare that continues to burn atop a tower high above the rig.

The flare is designed to harmlessly burn off natural gas that is released during the process of oil drilling. The gas is channeled through pipes to the flame. But gas is now escaping in an uncontrolled way, creating the potential for a huge explosion.

Simon Boxall of Britain’s National Oceanography Center says gas dissipates quickly in the open air, but expresses concern gas getting trapped inside rooms within the huge drilling platform itself, which is stationed more than 200 kilometers offshore.

"The concern about the rig blowing is that it has the potential for opening up some of the other wells in the area, because the rig actually serves five well heads, not just the one that has become damaged," he says.

The environmental impact of such an explosion would be huge if oil were released from several wells, but, Boxall adds, the impact of the gas leak alone is localized and short-term.

The rig owner, Total, which declined to provide an interview for this report, says the gas leak is not coming from the main well but a small underground pocket.

According to Boxall, although the company is doing all it can for now, because it remains too dangerous to send workers to the platform, there is considerable uncertainty about how much gas that pocket might contain.

“[It] could exhaust quite quickly, [but] the big word there is ‘could,’" he says. "And that ‘could’ could be days, it could be months, it could be years."

Total is preparing to plug the leak and has backup plans to drill one or two new shafts to remove the gas safely if plugging efforts fail. All preparations could take six months or more.

A steadfast reminder
For environmental activists, even though this incident isn't yet particularly serious, it serves as a reminder of the dangers of offshore drilling.

Charlie Kronick, senior climate advisor to Greenpeace UK, says those dangers will become more serious as companies seek oil and gas reserves in increasingly remote northern waters.

“Even in the UK, which has been widely held up as having the Gold Standard for offshore operations, these kinds of accidents happen consistently and regularly," he says. "As you get into more and more extreme environments, these kinds of accidents are going to continue to happen, and they’re going to happen more often because of those extreme environments.”

The leak has caused an 8 percent drop in the value of Total’s stock, and a slight increase in the price of oil.

Experts say shutting down the platform and reducing operations at others nearby is counteracting the increase in global supply from the resumption of Libya’s oil exports.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: kd benny
March 31, 2012 2:22 PM
hope this incident could be solved well as soon as possible.........

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs