Massive Gas Leak on Offshore Rig in North Sea Has Drillers Scrambling

An oil rig in the North Sea is currently spewing huge amounts of gas into the air, prompting the creation of a four-mile exclusion zone around it. The rig, Total's Elgin platform, is located about 150 miles (241 km) from Aberdeen, Scotland.

Officials are struggling to figure out how to stop the leak, whose origin is apparently still a mystery. Along with 238 workers on the Elgin rig, employees on other rigs in the surrounding waters have been evacuated, because of, well, the giant and spreading explosive gas cloud. There are a few options on the table for fixing this, the easiest and happiest being that it stops on its own. If the leak is coming straight from the undersea natural gas reservoir, though, it seems unlikely to simply peter out. The more active options include drilling a relief well or mounting a platform-based "kill" of the leak.

All this probably sounds familiar. The Deepwater Horizon blowout that killed 11 people and eventually spilled almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico featured some similar choices. And just like the time frame on that blowout, officials warn that drilling a relief well for the North Sea gas leak could take as long as six months (in the Gulf, the spill was capped after three months and the well was declared completely dead two months later). And also, the elite Hellfighters team that fought the massive fire on the Deepwater Horizon has apparently been called in to Scotland in case that explosive cloud turns into an explosive explosion. If there was one silver lining from the BP blowout, it's that hellfighter-type groups suddenly had a lot more applicants and trainees looking to get ready for the next disaster. The power has been switched off at the Elgin platform to reduce the risk of ignition, but it's good to know there are contingency plans in place.

The rig is far enough from shore that the gas cloud doesn't pose a threat to people on land, but there is also a sheen on the water suggesting it could affect wildlife in the area. And if Deepwater Horizon taught us anything, it's that initial assessments of oil spills and leaks generally don't match up with final damage reports. Hopefully this leak isn't the Next Big Disaster that environmentalists have been warning about for two years now, but just as before, as long as we insist on pulling resources from increasingly hard-to-reach places such accidents are inevitable.

Image via arbyreed

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