Hundreds of oil workers were evacuated from a North Sea oil platform yesterday amid fears of an explosion after a major gas leak.
A full-scale emergency evacuation was ordered and a no-fly zone was later declared after the Total-owned Elgin platform started leaking gas just after noon.
Aberdeen Coastguard scrambled three helicopters to the site, which contains the Elgin/Franklin offshore platforms and the Rowan Viking drilling rig, after reports it was releasing dangerous gas.
One worker who was on board the Rowan Viking, which is currently drilling in the Elgin field, said the men were evacuated due to the “risk of severe explosion”.
All workers from the drilling rig were removed to other platforms by 6pm and efforts were under way to fly them all back to the shore.
However, a total of 27 workers had to remain on the Elgin and Franklin overnight to try to stem the leak.
The Elgin – which is situated in the Central Graben Area, 150 miles off Aberdeen – is made up of two platforms separated by a 262ft bridge.
Last night a spokesman for Total said the workers, who remained on the field, were on the opposite platform to where the gas was leaking from.
Jake Molloy, general secretary of the OILC oil union, said he had major concerns about the rig and said it was in great danger of “blowing out”.
He said: “This is the most serious situation a drilling rig could be in right now.
“If the Elgin is leaking gas and has not yet been stopped, if a sight of ignition is found, there would be a blow-out and we could end up in a situation similar to the Deepwater Horizon. The only thing worse than the situation it is in right now is complete obliteration of the rig.”
On April 20, 2010, a gas release and subsequent explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 men and led to the largest ever accidental offshore oil spill.
Last night a spokesman for Total E&P UK Limited said the hydrocarbons methane and ethane started to leak at around 12.15pm.
He said: “A well control problem occurred on the wellhead platform at the Elgin field, resulting in a gas release. Work is still ongoing to control the release and work will continue throughout the night.
“No injuries have been reported.”
Last night, 88 people from the sites remained offshore, 69 of those on board the rigs they had been evacuated to earlier in the day.
The Coastguard first received a call at 12.32pm.
An emergency evacuation was planned and the RAF rescue helicopter 137 from Lossiemouth, the rescue 131 from RAF Bulmer and a helicopter from the Ekofisk platform in Norway were scrambled to the emergency evacuation of the rig.
The Ekofisk, sent by the Norwegian coastguard, down-manned 107 oil workers from the Rowan Viking, and ferried them to other nearby platforms.
From around 6pm helicopters from CHC Scotia and Bristow’s started to land at Aberdeen Airport and a no-fly zone wasdeclared over the rig.