Total’s Elgin-Franklin Field Producing at Half Pre-Accident Rate

Total SA’s production from the Elgin-Franklin field in the North Sea is now half what it was before a leak shut operations for almost a year.

Output at the field about 240 kilometers (150 miles) east of Aberdeen in Scotland resumed March 9 and has reached 55,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, according to Philippe Guys, managing director of Total E&P UK. Production before the incident was about 120,000 barrels a day and provided about 2 percent of Total’s annual output.

The leak forced the evacuation of the field, the deepest in the North Sea and among the largest so-called high-pressure, high-temperature developments in the world. While 10 wells have been abandoned and six are being evaluated to see whether they can be brought back into production, the incident hasn’t cast doubt on the operation of other wells under extreme pressure and temperature at the field, according to Guys.

The three wells that account for current output “meet our operational criteria” such as standards for pressure on casings, said Patrice de Vivies, senior vice president for Northern Europe.

The leak at the G4 well at Elgin occurred within two years of a blowout at BP Plc’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico and initially shook investor confidence in the French explorer. A final report by the HSE, a U.K. regulator, is expected within weeks on the causes of the accident, which Total blames on corrosion of a well casing and an unexpected release of gas.

‘Unique Event’

Later this year, Total will try to replicate the corrosion damage in a laboratory to determine whether other wells under the same pressures and temperatures could be at risk. So far, the explorer has concluded the leak was caused by phenomena present only at the G4 well.

“It was a unique event within this environment,” said Guys, who was speaking with other senior management at a press conference on the Shetland Islands April 22.

In addition to the corrosion on the casing, there was a sudden and unexpected release of gas from a geological formation called Hod about a kilometer above the G4 well’s producing reservoir.

Total and Vallourec SA, the maker of the piping, recovered about 2.3 kilometers of the damaged casing in October and concluded cracks were caused by the interaction of bromine contained in fluid used in the well 14 years earlier and grease on the casing, de Vivies said.

New Wells

Bromine wasn’t used by Total in other wells at Elgin and Franklin although it’s used by operators elsewhere, he said.

Total is studying drilling new wells at the field to bring production back to what it was before the incident by 2015, the company has said. Output from the West Franklin Phase 2 development is scheduled for 2014, part of Total’s plan to spend about $20 billion in the North Sea over five years.

Total runs Elgin and Franklin with a 46 percent stake and has drilled new wells and added platforms in recent years to try to slow their decline. The explorer estimates production could last “at least” another two decades.

The complex, which began pumping oil and gas in 2001, delivered about 7 percent of U.K. output before the leak.

Other operators of similar wells have contacted Total to ask what they’ve learned about the causes of the accident, the executives said.

Expansion of the field “very probably” could include tapping into Hod, the reservoir from which the gas leaked, de Vivies said. “There’s still a lot left to produce at Elgin-Franklin.”

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