A cloud of explosive natural gas boiling out of the North Sea off the coast of Scotland has forced the evacuation of a second rig and forced coastguards to set up an exclusion zone to ward off ships and aircraft.
French oil firm Total said the leak was the most serious problem it had faced in the North Sea in a decade of drilling, adding that it was taking "all possible measures" to try to identify the source and cause of the leak and to bring it under control.
"It's not going to be solved straightforwardly - it will take at least a few days," a Total spokesman said, adding that experts were being flown in from around the world to help stop the leak.
"One of the possibilities is to drill a relief well, but we hope to find another solution because that would be time-consuming," he said.
"We are fairly sure that the leak is on the platform above the level of the sea, which probably makes it easier to spot," he added.
The leak at the stricken Elgin platform some 150 miles (241 kilometers) off the Scottish city of Aberdeen was first detected Sunday, forcing the evacuation of more than 230 workers.
A gas cloud was reported to have enveloped the rig, whilst Total said a six-mile sheen could be observed on the ocean surface, emanating from the vicinity of the leak.
The rig had been pumping 9 million cubic meters of gas per day. Elgin also produces 60,000 barrels of light crude oil per day.
Vicky Wyatt, senior energy campaigner for Greenpeace, said in a statement that the incident showed the high stakes involved in oil drilling.
"The gas leak on the Total platform off the coast of Aberdeen is a reminder of the dangers that drilling for oil and gas pose to the lives of those working on rigs, and the huge damage that can be done to the environment," she said.
She also said the British government should increase backing of wind, wave, and solar power industries if it wants to protect workers and the environment.
British energy minister Charles Hendry played down the extent of leaking oil, saying: "Any leak we take very seriously and I think the right measures have been taken. What we've identified, procedures appear to have been followed properly."
zz, dfm/rc (Reuters, AFP)