Vapour Clouds and Gas Bubbling under the Elgin field North Sea platform causes evacuations

North Sea gas leak: sea ‘bubbling’ under platform

A gas leak at Total’s Elgin oil and gas platform in the North Sea, which led to the evacuation of all 238 workers, continued on Monday with observers claiming the sea looked as if it was “boiling”.

By Emily Gosden
10:53AM BST 26 Mar 2012

Workers on a standby ship at the Elgin field reportedly saw vapour clouds forming and gas bubbling on the surface of the water under the platform, triggering the emergency evacuation on Sunday afternoon.

The Rowan Viking drilling rig was also evacuated and workers taken to other nearby installations before being taken onshore.

A core crew of 19 people initially remained on board the platform but were evacuated in the early hours of Monday morning “as a precautionary measure, due to the ongoing nature of the situation offshore”, Total said.

They had arrived back in Aberdeen at 3.28am, leaving the Elgin Processing Utilities and Quarters platform “unmanned and powered down” – a situation that some in the industry claimed was “unprecedented”.

By early afternoon Monday Total was still unable to identify the source of the leak at Elgin, which lies 240km off the coast of Aberdeen and the gas leak was still “ongoing”. It had earlier described the leak as due to a “well control” problem.

In a statement shortly before 2.30pm, Total said: “The gas leak at the Elgin Well Head Platform remains ongoing and we are taking all possible measures to try to identify the source and cause of the leak and to bring it under control. Although this is a serious situation, nobody has been injured and everyone is now transferred to a place of safety.

“A sheen on the water has been confirmed in the vicinity of the platform and Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) have been alerted.

“Total is doing everything in its power to resolve this situation and to minimise the impact of this incident.”

The Elgin field is a high-pressure, high-temperature installation producing both gas and “condensate” – a light hydrocarbon liquid-from-gas, more akin to petrol than to crude oil, which the Elgin field does not produce.

It said: “A sheen on the water has been confirmed in the vicinity of the platform and Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) have been alerted.”

A Total spokesman said the leak was only from the gas production rather than the condensate production and that any sheen on the surface would be due to gas that had leaked and then condensed, rather than a leak of condensate.

An aircraft carrying dispersant was on standby at East Midlands airport should it be required to break up the sheen but had not yet been needed.

Jake Molloy, regional organiser of offshore union OILC-RMT, said he had spoken to workers after they were evacuated on Sunday. “They had initially been told that the standby vessel had seen what appeared to be gas bubbling on the surface underneath the installation – like a boiling effect – and vapour clouds developing.

“The workforce were told to muster immediately and told to go their cabins, lift their passports and their grab bags – like an emergency bag – and they were very rapidly removed via helicopter to other installations in the immediate area.

“They took the crew down to a small essential crew number but even they have since now been evacuated, which means there’s nobody there.

“The complete evacuation of an entire operation is unheard of – as far as I’m aware, unprecedented. The fact they are sitting here in Aberdeen tells you it’s a very serious incident.”

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