Workers on French energy company Total’s North Sea Elgin platform repeatedly raised safety concerns about rising gas pressure but were told a leak “could not happen” only hours before one took place, a trade union leader said on Friday.
“The workforce had raised their concerns to the Offshore Installation Manager who in turn consulted with onshore technical authorities at Total…they were repeatedly told that a failure in Annulus C (the pipe casing) could not happen…and even if it did, a design feature would prevent a gas leak,” Jake Molloy said.
“Several discussions between workers and Total technical authorities happened throughout the preceding weeks, up to and including a few hours before the event,” said Molloy, the head of the RMT union’s section that represents offshore oil and gas workers, referring to the leak that led to a total evacuation of the rig.
A spokeswoman at Total in Aberdeen said she could not immediately comment on the matter.
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Shortly after the leak was discovered on Sunday, the Elgin PUQ (Process, Utility and Quarters) platform shut down operations to reduce the chances of the gas igniting. A six mile long sheen of two to 23 tonnes of gas condensate has been discovered as the leak creates a massive cloud of gas. The condensate is a natural gas byproduct of the drilling process and the UK’s Energy Ministry has stated that the ecological impact is far lower than that of an oil leak, while Total has said that it is likely the gas condensate will simply evaporate in the coming weeks. Safety concerns at present center around the flammability of the gas should it reach other North Sea platforms and ignite, which could causecatastrophic devastation.
The BBC has reported that while Elgin PUQ is not a deepwater rig, it does drill to unusual depths in the sea bed. Dr. Simon Boxall, an oceanographer at Southampton University told the BBC that “the gas [Total] is bringing up is what we call sour gas, that gas has a high proportion of hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide and that makes it very flammable and quite poisonous. So the big problem they have got is dealing with a very combustible gas – unlike Deepwater Horizon where we were dealing with crude oil which ironically is very difficult to light sometimes.”