10 Week Old Australian Oil Rig Leak in Timor Sea is Plugged, Fire Finally Out

SYDNEY, Nov. 4 (UPI) — The operator of an oil rig in the Timor Sea announced Tuesday it plugged the leak that had been spewing oil for 10 weeks and brought under control a massive fire that had been burning since Sunday.

Since Aug. 21 up to 400 barrels of oil leaked daily from PTTEP Australasia’s Montara wellhead off the coast of West Australia. The Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism had said it could have been leaking as much as 2,000 barrels a day. It took engineers four attempts to plug the leak.

“We are relieved and thankful that we have killed the well and stopped the main fire,” PTTEP Australasia Chief Financial Officer Jose Martins said in a statement.

“We do not underestimate the significantly increased technical complexity, logistical challenges and hazards of the work now required in the wake of the damage caused by the fire to the wellhead platform and to the West Atlas rig,” Martins said.

The fire broke out Sunday on the West Atlas rig and Montara wellhead platform during an attempt to plug the oil well with heavy mud.

Martins said the cleanup should be carried out quickly. “I suspect a couple of months is what we are … anticipating,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. However, he said, “the environmental plan really could take up to seven years.”

Martins said he expected an insurance claim to recover costs of the incident to be “much higher” than the $170 million it had cost PTTEP so far, to factor costs of the rig fire. The cleanup has cost the company about $5 million till now, Martins said, and that figure could rise.

According to ABC, Martins said PTTEP already knows what caused the blaze. “There’s a range of causes but we’re not going to go into that,” he said.

Environmentalists are calling for an in-depth inquiry into the leak and fire.

With more than 28,000 barrels of toxic oil and condensate released into the Timor Sea off the Kimberley coast since the leak began, the situation now demands absolute transparency and the full attention of the highest levels of government, said WWF in a statement.

“The inquiry must have the scope to look at what the real issues are here and to what extent the region is at risk of similar events in the future. Until we have learnt what went wrong here, the government should not approve further developments in such sensitive, vulnerable and pristine tropical marine habitats,” said WWF Australia conservation director Dr. Gilly Llewellyn, a marine biologist.

On Oct. 23, while oil was still leaking from PTTEP’s West Atlas rig, the company took control of five new exploration licenses, giving it access to an additional 571 square miles of Australian waters near the West Atlas.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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