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Setting fire to gas could be an option

Red Adair was an expert on oil fires
Red Adair was an expert on oil fires

Deliberately setting fire to the gas leaking from Total’s Elgin platform will be among the options under consideration, according to one expert working for the best-known name in the business.

Phil Grange, well control manager for the Red Adair Company based in Dubai, said the oil firm and its specialists, Wild Well Control, might decide on a controlled blaze as the least damaging response.

As the platform is completely powered down there is little chance of the gas igniting itself, he believes, but static electricity or a lightning strike could still pose a threat.

Red Adair Factfile:

Red Adair was an American oil well firefighter who found worldwide fame for his daring and expertise in extinguishing and capping oil well blowouts.

Born in Houston, Texas, he took up his trade after serving in a bomb disposal unit during World War II.

He founded Red Adair Co in 1959, and went on to battle more than 2,000 blazes.

In 1977, he and his crew were involved in capping the North Sea’s biggest oil well blowout at the Ekofisk Bravo platform in the Norwegian sector.

He returned in 1988 to help put out the fire on the Piper Alpha oil platform following the explosion which claimed the lives of 167 men.

Still in action at the age of 75, he took part in extinguishing the oil well fires in Kuwait set by retreating Iraqi troops after the Gulf War in 1991.

Red Adair retired in 1993 and died in 2004, aged 89.

The 1968 John Wayne movie Hellfighters was
based on his 1962 adven-tures in the Sahara Desert when he tackled a blaze nicknamed “the devil’s cigarette lighter”, which had burned at the Gassi Touil gas field for more than five months.

Such a blaze would almost certainly result in the destruction of the platform and its drilling rig, as well as spreading to the adjoining operations and accommodation unit – but it would also cause less atmospheric pollution and greatly reduce the amount of condensate on the sea.

“Purposefully setting fire to the leak will remain a consideration as part of the control strategy,” said Mr Grange.

He said the quickest fix would be for a team to re-board the platform and attempt to “kill” the well from there – although the flammability and toxicity of the leaking gas made this a potentially risky strategy.

Another likely option – but one which would require considerable planning, engineering and time – would be to drill a relief well to intercept the leak at source, then pump in sealing materials.

There is a possibility that the leak could seal itself. This would make re-boarding the platform a viable option, although there would still be considerable work required to kill the well permanently. The gas leak may also simply “run out of puff” as the source reservoir depletes and drops pressure, but Mr Grange said it was impossible to estimate how long that would take or if it would happen at all.

What is not unfolding 150 miles off Aberdeen, he insists, is a repeat of the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“My viewpoint is that the two incidents are very, very different – gas versus crude oil, relatively shallow water versus extremely deep water – and, therefore, should not be directly compared,” he said. “As in all incidents of this nature and stature, there will be lessons learned and strategies developed to prevent or minimise future occurrence.”

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