|North Sea gas leak has environmental activists concerned
Environmental groups warned Thursday they fear an oil spill could
be triggered at a North Sea offshore platform that has been leaking
highly pressurized gas since the weekend.
A flame is still burning in the stack above the Elgin platform, which stands about 150 miles (240 kilometers) off the coast of Aberdeen, eastern Scotland, after a leak of flammable gas Sunday— prompting all 238 staff to be evacuated on Monday.
Platform operator Total S.A.
insists there is no threat of any explosion under current weather
conditions, but said that surveillance flights have detected a sheen
around the platform estimated to extend over 4.8 square kilometers (1.85
The sheen is believed to be caused by gas
condensate — a petrol-like substance that contains some oil. The
condensate is a lighter fuel than oil, but is still dangerous.
is sending methane into the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas, so
there is some environmental impact at the moment. There is also oil in
that well, and Total need to move before an oil spill becomes part of
this leak," said Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland.
He warned that any major spill would have "catastrophic consequences for the environment, marine life and sea birds in Shetland, the Faroe Islands and the Norwegian coast."
spokesman Jacques Emmanuel Saulnier has said the situation is serious
but stable, and confirmed that the cause of the leak is still being
An exclusion zone of two nautical miles (2.3 miles;
3.7 kilometers) has been set up around Elgin, with ships and aircraft
ordered to stay away from the area.
environment secretary for Scotland’s semiautonomous government, said
that "any gas leak on an evacuated offshore installation is, of course,
The leak came in the same week that the U.K. oil
and gas industry announced it had begun exploration in the deep waters
of the North Atlantic to the west of the Shetland Isles, off the
Scottish coast. Campaigners have warned that the Elgin incident is a
reminder of the dangers posed by deep water exploration and extraction.
U.K. industry, unions and regulatory authorities say they have the best
and tightest safety regime in the world, but this leak proves that for
all their efforts it remains unsafe," said Charlie Kronick, a senior
climate adviser at Greenpeace U.K.
"The industry is trying to squeeze out the very last of the Earth’s reserves and companies such as Total, BP and Royal Dutch Shell are pushing themselves into exploration that is extremely difficult, costly and risky," he said.
also raised worries about new exploration. "There is a big
contradiction as Scotland has some of the toughest targets on climate
change and renewable energy, which is great, but at the same time London and Edinburgh cozy up to the oil and gas industry," he said.
Scotland’s governing Scottish National Party,
which is seeking to hold a referendum on independence for Scotland by
2014, has put the oil industry at the heart of its economic plans — a
stance which has also angered campaigners. "We should accept that we are
at the end of the oil and gas age," said Kronick.
tightened its offshore health and safety policies after the Piper Alpha
disaster in 1988 when 167 workers died in a platform blast in the
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