Australia West Atlas oil well catches fire
ON FIRE: West Atlas drilling rig and the Montara wellhead platform
The oil well which has caused a massive spill in the Timor Sea, off the north west coast of Australia, caught fire on Sunday
PTTEP Australasia, a Thai-based energy company which operates the well, said the fire broke out as it made another attempt to plug the underwater leak.
After a 10-week leak, West atlas drilling rig and the Montara wellhead platform caught fire on Sunday. Photo AFP via BBC. Image may be subject to copyright.
“Fire broke out on the West Atlas drilling rig and the Montara wellhead platform after the West Triton successfully intercepted the leaking well this morning,” Ferguson said.
“Well kill operations were under way at the time, but have now been suspended. Non-essential personnel are being evacuated from the West Triton.
“Current operations are focused on reducing the intensity of the fire.”
The rig’s Thai-based operator, PTTEP Australasia, said specialists had finally succeeded in the first stage of plugging the well at 9:30 am (0130 GMT) after weeks of failed attempts.
“They had not actually stopped or killed the leak… and then unfortunately the fire broke out,” AFP reported a company spokeswoman as saying.
For more than 10 weeks the leak has been spewing oil and gas at at least 400 barrels a day.
Jose Martins, a director at PTTEP Australasia said the only way to extinguish the fire was to plug the leak.
When oil, gas and condensate began seeping into the Timor Sea PTTEP estimated it would take 50 days to plug the well in an area described by Tourism Australia as “one of the world’s last true wilderness areas.” Three previous attempts by PTTEP Australasia to plug the leak, 2.5km below the sea bed, by pumping it full of heavy mud, have failed. Photograph: Debra Glasgow/WWF. Caption: Guardian UK. More Photos…
“The measures which we have been able to take so far can only mitigate the fire. They will not stop the fire.”The best way to stop the fire is to complete the well-kill and stop the flow of gas and oil at the surface from the H-1 well, cutting off the fuel source for the fire.”
Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said in a statement that some of the world’s leading experts were working to fix the leaking well and respond to this latest problem.
Mr Ferguson said the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority had been called out to help fight the fire and that Geoscience Australia and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority were on standby.
However Greg Hunt, an opposition spokesman, has accused Environment Minister Peter Garrett of doing nothing to stop the oil leak.
“Ten weeks of complacency, 10 weeks of drift, 10 weeks of inaction from Mr Garrett,” he said.”In the absence of action… the prime minister must step in and convene a national environmental emergency task force within the next 24 hours.”
“The government remains deeply concerned about this incident,” Ferguson said.
“From day one our top priorities have been the safety of people and the protection of the environment. Stopping the flow of oil and gas safely and as soon as possible remains our prime objective.”
The Australian government on Saturday released a report saying birds and marine species were at risk from the oil spill, but it said the full impact could not be immediately determined. Reuters reported.
“This spill has been a disaster from the outset,” Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said on Sunday.
“Coupled with the environmental impacts of the oil entering the ocean, the potentially hazardous effects of the dispersants being used and the threat to fisheries both here and in Indonesia, now we have a fire on our hands.”
PTTEP plans to produce about 35,000 barrels of oil per day from the Montara field, which should boost its 2009 petroleum sales to 240,000 bpd.
PTTEP operates more than 40 oil and gas projects in 14 countries throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia, with Montara as its main exploration and production business, said Reuters.
PTTEP are just as guilty as BP [America.] The difference is that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation, do their jobs, whereas Aussie authorities sit on their thumbs.
When the US govt takes BP to the cleaners, shouldn’t Australia show some grit, too?
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