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Outdated plugging caused Elgin gas leak – UK company

03rd April 2012

A leak that occurred during a well operation at a platform on the Elgin gas field could have been avoided if Total had invested in upgrading its plugging facilities, says technology company.

Oil and gas industry must modernise its plugging technologies to avoid potential leaks

The oil and gas industry must work fast to modernise technologies to plug unprofitable wells or risk causing leaks such as the one witnessed in March at Total’s Elgin site, according to experts at BiSN Technologies Ltd.

Poor “plug and abandon” procedures used by the oil and gas industry played a part in the leak, the international services company said.
When a well reaches its economic limit – when production no longer covers operating costs – it is 'plugged' and abandoned. “But the method currently used by the industry to plug unprofitable wells has moved on very little since the 1950s”, said Paul Carragher at BiSN Technologies.
"The problem of leaking oil and gas wells continues to grow, but we now have the technology to permanently seal even the most difficult of wells in a cost effective manner."
BiSN develop tools for safe well abandonment. For example, the BiSN Bridge PlugTM uses an alloy that is melted in situ, creating a solid metal to seal which expands as it solidifies. This new generation of bridge plugs are corrosion-resistant, and capable of holding back more than 50,000 PSI of pressure, which far exceeds anything else in the marketplace, according to BiSN.
The tool has been developed with the help of the Virtual Engineering Centre, a University of Liverpool led partnership established to advance the use of Virtual Engineering techniques to provide innovative solutions to industry challenges. 

Dr Anthony Robotham, executive director at the Centre said it had "worked closely with BiSN Technologies Ltd to develop a numerical simulation of the installation process of the BiSN Bridge PlugTM. This simulation shows how the alloy melts and solidifies in the well and demonstrates the integrity of the seal. The simulation has been validated with experimental data and is adaptable to both oil and gas applications," he said.
There are an estimated 20-30m oil and gas wells globally that have been plugged and abandoned using old methods, but leaks could become a problem of the past if the industry embraces this new technology.

Total is actively preparing operations to regain control of the leaking well. The first action plan is to carry out the well control operation using a floating support vessel and pumping mud into the well. The second plan relates to drilling a relief well and a backup relief well, Total said on 2 April.

The North Sea gas leak could be costing the French oil giant an estimated GBP 94,0000 a day in lost production, according to recent estimates.