LONDON - Total SA said Tuesday a specialized team could board the abandoned Elgin North Sea platform as soon as Wednesday evening to begin securing the area in advance of efforts to stem an onboard gas leak.
"We're at the final point of setting out the safety conditions needed to mount the operation," said Total spokesman Andrew Hogg.
Total engineers and specialists from Wild Well Control--the company made famous for helping tackle the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and Kuwait's raging oil fires--will likely board the platform Wednesday evening or Thursday morning in the first stage of an operation to "kill" the problem well responsible for the ongoing gas leak.
A sudden drop in temperatures in north east Scotland means that the weather has become a consideration and Hogg said Total was assessing when to board based on how conditions develop.
"We're waiting on the weather to turn in our favor," said Hogg.
Nearly 240 workers were evacuated a week ago from Total's Elgin platform, 240 kilometers off the Scottish coast, when the gas leak was found. Total had been battling for weeks to control a problem well blamed for the leak when a sudden rush of pressure sent gas and mud spewing out from the drilling deck of the platform.
With the risk of an immediate explosion seemingly averted, attention has turned to the major operation required to stop the leak. The company's top financial executives said Monday the incident is costing it around $2.5 million a day in a combination of lost production and containment efforts.
Total is also proceeding with a separate plan to drill two relief wells to divert the flowing gas, with drilling rigs being moved into position, although these could take as long as six months to complete.
Initial relief drilling work is expected to begin around April 8, Total has said.
Although the top-kill is a quicker way of addressing the immediate issue of the leak, the complex and risky procedure will still likely take several weeks.
The U.K.'s Department of Energy and Climate change said the adverse weather might prove positive in terms of the environmental impact of the leak.
"There's going to be high winds and that will help break up the sheen," a DECC spokesman said, referring to a sheen of gas condensate currently floating on the water around the leak.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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