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Ninety oil workers have been evacuated from a North Sea rig as engineers fight to control a huge build up of pressure in a well which critics say has the potential to blow-up the platform and cause a major environmental problem.
The Norwegian company Statoil has been pumping cement into an offshore well on the Gullfaks field in an operation similar to the one being attempted today by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.
The equivalent of around 70,000 barrels of oil a day of production from the Gullfaks C, Tordis and Gimle platforms has been shut down and more than 90 staff evacuated from the area, which lies in Norwegian waters.
Six days after the Gullfaks C platform in the North Sea was partially evacuated due to a sudden change of pressure in a well, Norwegian energy group Statoil said Tuesday it had yet to fix the problem.
In a worst case scenario, unstable well pressure can cause oil or gas to leak out and explode, as was the case in the devastating April 20 accident on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers and has caused an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
"The pressure is still unstable, but the situation has not worsened," Statoil spokesman Gisle Johanson told AFP.
"We are continuing to work to normalise the situation," he said, adding that no leaks had so far been detected and the company "deems the risk of a blowout as very small."
Tonnes of specialist drilling mud have been pumped into the Gulfaks well in a bid to contain pressure, and Statoil is attempting to cap the well with cement.
Statoil spokesman Gisle Johanson said the well was now more stable, but it may not be safely plugged for several more days - in what has been an unusually long struggle to bring a North Sea well under control.
He said: "The pressure is still unstable, but the situation has not worsened. We are continuing to work to normalise the situation."
The well has suffered similar incidents, one as recenty as April 30th this year and again in December 23rd 2009.
“Three major events of this kind in less than five months proves that Statoil is not able to control this situation,” says President of the Bellona Foundation, Frederic Hauge.
Bellona has received new information that sheds some light over what actually happened on Gullfaks C, which is operated by the Norwegian state owned oil company Statoil. The situation remained unresolved Friday afternoon.
‘The situation is out of control’
According to Bellona’s sources, the drillstring is stuck in the well.
“Bellona’s position is that the situation is out of control, and that there is still a real risk of a blow out,” says Frederic Hauge.
Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk said on Thursday it was investigating sightings of an oil slick near three of its North Sea fields but that it could not identify any spill.
Oil on the surface of the sea was observed by Danish and German reconnaissance aircraft on Tuesday and Wednesday near the Dan, Halfdan and Kraka fields in the North Sea, Maersk Oil said in a statement on Wednesday.
An official at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the slick was estimated to measure 300 square kilometers, but the EPA did not consider it to be a serious spill and the oil would not reach the shore.