The ratings agency added that even in the event of a shutdown of the whole Elgin field, it believes that Total is likely to retain its 'AA' credit rating as it has the cash resources to more than cover any associated costs.
"The Elgin leak is a surface gas leak rather than an underwater oil leak, making its potential for environmental damage far lower than in the Deepwater Horizon case," said Fitch in a press statement Wednesday. "These sorts of accidents are often difficult to resolve and unpredictable; nonetheless, in our view the potential is low for this leak to escalate to a crisis on the scale of Deepwater Horizon. Total's preliminary assessment suggests there has been no significant impact on the environment and the use of dispersants has not been considered."
However, Fitch added that it had considered a "worse-than-base-case" scenario where Total may have to shut down the Elgin field to stop the gas leak. "This would imply the loss of a producing field that is worth, in net present value terms, EUR 5.7 billion [$7.6 billion] according to third-party valuations. Were the field to become permanently unusable it would cost Total EUR 2.6 billion [$3.5 billion] and the company might have to compensate its partners for the remaining EUR 3.1 billion [$4.1 billion]," Fitch said.
On Tuesday Dow Jones reported a source saying that the proximity of vessels owned by Transocean and Rowan to the Elgin platform may sway Total's decision in hiring a firm to drill relief wells to cap the leak.
Currently, Transocean's Sedco 714 (mid-water semisub) is drilling for Total in the North Sea, while a Rowan jack-up rig was used for drilling work at Elgin.
Total said Tuesday it is studying all options and could take time to make a decision, while dismissing reports that claimed the company had indicated it could take up to six months to drill a relief well.
"They are not details that have come from us at all," a Total spokesperson told Rigzone Tuesday morning, explaining that the company did not yet have a timescale in place regarding the drilling of a relief well.
Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell reported Tuesday that it removed oil workers from two of its North Sea rigs due to the proximity to Total's Elgin/Franklin platform.
In a statement, Shell said it had reduced personnel on its Shearwater platform and the nearby Nobel Hans Deul drilling rig. Drilling operations on the Noble Hans Deul (400' ILC) rig, which is located offshore Scotland 138 miles east of Aberdeen, have been suspended and the wells "left in a safe state," said Shell.
"While the move is purely precautionary and primarily driven by the prevailing weather conditions, and both facilities remain operational, it has been decided to reduce numbers to a more manageable level until the full situation surrounding the Elgin leak has been established," said a Shell spokesperson.
Shell also reported Tuesday that it is using the downtime as an opportunity to conduct maintenance on one of its rigs.
"Further to the precautionary safety measures we took yesterday following Total's gas leak at Elgin, we have no brought forward plans to carry out maintenance at Shearwater. This will take place from today, starting four days ahead of schedule. We are therefore shutting down production in a controlled manner," said a Shell spokesperson.
Total reported Monday that it had evacuated the Elgin platform's crew and that all 238 personnel had been accounted for.
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