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North Sea Gas Leak Forces More Evacuations

First Posted: 03/27/2012 6:05 am Updated: 03/27/2012 8:28 am

LONDON (AP) — Energy company Shell has withdrawn some workers from two platforms near an underwater gas leak east of Scotland, around which the Coast Guard set up a security perimeter banning traffic of ships and aircraft.

The leak of flammable gas was discovered over the weekend from a platform owned by French company Total S.A., which evacuated all staff on Monday.

Industry and government officials evaluated options for dealing with leak, but their best hope may be that the well simply runs out of gas within a few weeks.

David Hainsworth, health, safety and environment manager for Total, said the company had taken steps to reduce the possibility of an explosion.

"The gas is flammable but the platform power was turned off to minimize risk of ignition, but clearly there is a risk," Hainsworth said in a BBC radio interview. "We have taken away a series of risks but there is always a possibility, it's low but you never say never."

Shell U.K., a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, moved 35 workers off the Noble Hans Deul drilling rig on Tuesday, following the evacuation of 33 workers on Monday. It also took 52 workers off the Shearwater platform on Monday; that leaves 38 people remaining on each of the two facilities.

Total evacuated all 238 workers from the Elgin platform, the scene of the leak, on Sunday.

The Coast Guard established an exclusion zone banning ships and aircraft from an area extending 2 nautical miles (3.7 kms) around the platform.

Hainsworth said that drilling a relief well was one option for stopping the leak, another would be to pour heavy mud into the well.

"The best-case scenario is that the gas in this area is not very productive and it dies off in the coming days and weeks," Hainsworth said.

A surveillance flight on Monday detected a sheen around the platform, believed to be caused by gas condensate — a petrol-like substance that contains some oil. More surveillance flights were planned on Tuesday.

A huge leak of gas condensate triggered one of Britain's worst oil disasters off the Piper Alpha rig in 1988, which killed 167 people.

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Filed by Joanna Zelman  |