Greenpeace carry out tests near North Sea gas leak
ON BOARD THE KOENIGIN JULIANA - Agence France-Presse
The Wednesday, March 28, 2012 aerial shot provided by Greenpeace shows Total's Elgin Wellhead Platform in the North Sea off the shore of Scotland. AP photoA Greenpeace ship sailed up to the exclusion zone surrounding a stricken North Sea platform on Monday to assess the danger presented by its week-long flammable gas leak.
French energy giant Total has insisted the leak on its abandoned Elgin rig, 150 miles (240 kilometres) off Aberdeen in eastern Scotland, does not pose a significant threat to the environment.
But Greenpeace said it wanted to assess the environmental impact of the accident for itself, and dispatched the Koenigin Juliana research vessel from Germany on Saturday.
The group's marine expert and expedition leader Christian Bussau said: "Oil companies often withhold information when there are accidents.
"We want to get our own picture of the environmental damage from the scene." Greenpeace logistics officer Michael Meyer said the ship was just outside a two-nautical-mile (3.7 kilometres) exclusion zone around the platform.
"We've done some air tests and we're now taking water samples," Meyer said.
He said he could see oil on the water, but Total has insisted a sheen stretching several miles, which spread around the platform in the days after the accident, is gas condensate.
"The light condensate poses no significant threat to seabirds or other wildlife," a Total spokeswoman told AFP on Monday.
She added that Total expects the sheen to evaporate by itself, but the company has readied a Hercules military transport plane that could spray dispersant over the waters around the rig if needed.
An AFP photographer on board the Koenigin Juliana said there was a faint smell of gas in the air around the platform, which continues to leak an estimated 200,000 cubic metres of flammable gas each day.
A multi-coloured sheen was visible on the choppy waters, he added.
Total, which has seen an estimated eight billion euros ($10 billion) wiped off its stock value since the leak was discovered on March 25, is awaiting British regulators' advice on whether it is safe to approach the rig.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told AFP its officials would meet with Total in Aberdeen on Monday, while the energy giant said it was assembling a crew to go on to the platform "in the next couple of days".
The crew would include outside experts from Texas-based firm Wild Well Control as well as Total staff, a spokeswoman said.
The company is preparing to drill two relief wells to stop the gas leak, in parallel with an operation to pump so-called "heavy mud" at high pressure into the stricken well.
The last of Elgin's 238 crew were evacuated on Monday, while Total's Anglo-Dutch rival Shell has also been forced to halt output at its Shearwater platform and Noble Hans Deul rig, four miles away, because of safety concerns.
The last major accident in the North Sea was in 1988, when the Piper Alpha oil platform operated by the US-based Occidental Petroleum exploded, killing 167 people.
Total's British rival BP is still recovering from damage to its reputation and finances caused by an explosion at its Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.