Minister feels heat for confusion over Elgin gas flare

The Energy Minister is feeling the heat this week after inadvertently causing confusion over the flare at the North Sea oil platform which Total evacuated because of a gas leak […]

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By Vicky Ellis

The Energy Minister is feeling the heat this week after inadvertently causing confusion over the flare at the North Sea oil platform which Total evacuated because of a gas leak on Sunday.

The flare is effectively a flame which constantly burns on offshore gas rigs. When it emerged that the Elgin Franklin well platform’s flare remained lit after Total evacuated it, Minister Charles Hendry suggested on Monday the flare could be switched off remotely but has since announced this is not possible.

At a press briefing in Aberdeen today, Mr Hendry said: “We’ve made it clear the information wasn’t correct. At the time, this was a faithful statement.”

This week there was speculation the flare could cause an explosion if gas escaping from the well under the offshore platform was blown towards it by wind.

TOTAL has told the Government the platform is designed so the flare is located in a position where the prevailing wind blows the gas release away from it.DECC says weather conditions remain favourable for the foreseeable future.

However the firm is considering flying a helicopter over the platform to dump water over the flare to put it out, or similarly a firefighting ship – if safety conditions permit. Alternatively, it could wait for the flare to extinguish itself naturally.

Quizzed on whether the Elgin incident could cause as much environmental damage as the Gulf of Mexico spill in April 2010, Mr Hendry said there was a “major difference to the States” disaster because it is gas rather than oil which means there isn’t the same “environmental consequence”.

He added he had “no criticism of Total” and the company together with safety authorities and DECC had developed a “clear timetable and strategy to resolve” problems.