A north Sea platform remained shut down last night after a gas line ruptured on board the Brae Alpha.
US oil and gas giant Marathon said it was conducting a “comprehensive investigation” into the incident which happened on Boxing Day.
The firm said 73 workers remain on board the platform which is about 155 miles north east of Aberdeen after initial plans to evacuate were called off.
A helicopter scrambled by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to evacuate workers, who had mustered in preparation for leaving the Brae Alpha, was stood down on Saturday night after the scale of the incident was downgraded.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency had been alerted to the leak when the platform had issued a distress call after a number of gas alarms went off in response to the leak.
A coastguard spokesman said: “On December 26 at 4:37pm we got a call to the Brae Alpha which had multiple gas alarms going off.
“The platform declared a distress and requested assistance for an emergency down-man.
“We got the Bond One rescue helicopter from Aberdeen scrambled but while the aircraft was en-route the platform downgraded the emergency and the aircraft turned round and came back.
“The platform operator was to inspect the cause later.”
Sources reported the result of the leak left the platform’s production train module looking like a “bomb site” after the seven-inch pressurised gas line ruptured.
A spokesman for Marathon declined to comment on the extent of the damage.
“We are conducting a comprehensive investigation and will be assessing all necessary work to safely resume platform operations. It would be premature to comment further while this investigation is underway.”
Unions speculated that the accident was a result of “cutting staff, extending hours and an increasing maintenance backlog”.
RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy said the incident could have been much more serious if the gas had been ignited.
Mr Molloy said: “The initial feedback was that they were very lucky there was no ignition source.
“We will have to wait for the investigation but I think the inevitable response from the workforce will be along the lines of what we are seeing, which is that cuts don’t work.
“Cutting staff, extending hours and an increasing maintenance backlog does not work.
“We have been saying it since this madness started. We have been saying it would affect production, that it would not be more efficient and in actual fact it would be less so – and from a workforce perspective this is evidence of that.”
In February Marathon notified offshore personnel they were being moved to longer work rotas in a controversial move that unions warned could put North Sea safety at risk.
The Marathon spokesman said: “The safety and welfare of our workforce is our first priority. This commitment is, and will continue to be, fundamental to Marathon Oil’s core values.”
At 32 years old, the Brae Alpha is among the North Sea’s oldest producing assets.
Last year the Houston-based firm failed to sell its North Sea holdings after none of the offers it entertained met its price – although it sold its Norwegian North Sea assets for £1.6billion.
It operates the South, Central, North and West Brae fields, as well as holding stakes in the East Brae and Braemar fields. It also operates the Brae-Forties pipeline, and has stakes in the Foinaven field west of Shetland and the Sage pipeline to the huge St Fergus gas terminal.
In a statement, a spokesman for the company said: “Marathon Oil confirms that its Brae Alpha installation has been shut down at approximately 16.35 hrs on December 26, 2015 as a result of a natural gas release.
“The safety and welfare of our workforce is our first priority, and all personnel on board are safe and accounted for. The situation is under investigation and the relevant authorities have been notified.”
The incident comes after the safety watchdog hit Marathon with an improvement notice following a leak on the platform in June.
Last month, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the incident had “put the health and safety of individuals on the platform at risk”. Marathon was given until April to comply with the notice.