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Flare Left Burning at Site of Gas Leak

Written By Brianna Panzica

Posted March 28, 2012

On Sunday, a leak was discovered on Total S.A.’s (NYSE: TOT) gas rig at the Elgin field in the North Sea.

The leak has caused 6 miles of condensate and a gas cloud in the surrounding area, striking concern over marine life.

But even greater is the concern of an explosion.

When the crew of 238 was evacuated from the rig, a flare lit to “regulate gas pressure” was left burning, striking fear that it could cause a major explosion at any time.

The company issued a statement assuring the public of their control:

“The situation is currently stable.  We continue to take all possible measures to try to identify the source and cause of the leak and to bring it under control.”

But Total is taking significant precautions to avoid tragedy.  An exclusion zone spanning two miles has been put in place surrounding the rig.

Experts are attempting to put out the flare before they can move toward the rig.  David Hainsworth, health, safety, and environmental manager for Total, was unable to say how long this could take.  It could be “an hour, or 24 hours or two days.”

Twenty-four years ago, a fire occurred at the Piper Alpha platform in the same region.  167 were killed in the disaster.  Total is taking precautions to avoid a repetition of this.

But it can only do so much.  And John Sauven of Greenpeace is concerned about all this could mean for the environment:

“According to Total, if the leak continues at its current flow for six months it will amount to nearly 800,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, adding to the burden of greenhouse gases already going into the atmosphere.”

He believes it’s a clear indication that drilling should not be allowed “in fragile and high risk places like the Arctic.”

But some are glad it’s not worse.  Credit rating agency Fitch believes “its potential for environmental damage” is “far lower than in the Deepwater Horizon case,” considering the leak is only on the surface.

The well is also in a more shallow area than Deepwater Horizon, meaning even the worst cleanup would still be easier.  Once the flare is extinguished it could take up to six months to stop the leak.

Total has fallen about 7.5% from its close on Monday.

That’s all for now,


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