The out-of-control well owned by French company Total in the central North Sea’s Elgin field is still spewing natural gas into the air. The good news is a crew was able to visit the rig yesterday, raising hopes that a top-kill can be conducted by pumping mud into the well from the rig itself, which would stop this blowout a lot faster than Plan B – drilling a relief well to perform a bottom-kill. Also encouraging: the rate of gas flow seems to be decreasing.
We noted a small slick at this site on a radar satellite image taken March 27. Another image, taken on April 4, also shows a somewhat smaller slick (see image below). This is probably caused by natural-gas condensate, a volatile and toxic hydrocarbon liquid that evaporates relatively quickly. We don’t see any reason to expect this incident to morph into a significant oil spill.
But this is yet another close call for the global oil industry since the disastrous Gulf blowout in 2010. If this well had been tapping a high-pressure oil reservoir, like most of the new deepwater wells being drilled around the world, the outcome could have been a BP / Deepwater Horizon repeat. Ugh. We’re not ready to see that mess again any time soon.
|Radar satellite image showing small slick at North Sea blowout site, taken on April 4, 2012 at 9:29 pm local time. Envisat ASAR image courtesy European Space Agency. (When are we going to launch a radar satellite here in the US?)|