Montara platform fire out; leak plugged in Timor Sea

Rick Wilkinson
OGJ Correspondent

MELBOURNE, Nov. 4 -- Thai company PTTEP Australasia has finally managed to plug the oil leak from a well drilled from its Montara oil and gas field platform in the Timor Sea and in the process snuff out a damaging fire that had broken out engulfing the platform and the West Atlas jack up drilling rig directly above it.

The fire occurred during the fifth attempt to plug the leaking well at the field which was successfully intercepted over the weekend.

PTTEP pumped seawater down the relief well in a bid to wet the gas and help bring the fire under control.

The company was then able to snuff out the fire when well control experts pumped 3,400 bbl of heavy mud and 1,000 bbl of brine down the relief well to finally plug the leaking well and stop the flow of oil and gas to the surface.

Even so, the company’s Australasian director Jose Martins warned that the mud in the well was a temporary measure and there was still a lot to do before the well could be fully secured. Martins said the damage caused by the fire to the wellhead platform and the West Atlas rig had significantly increased the technical complexity, logistical challenge and hazards of the work ahead.

The well will be monitored for the next 48 hr to ensure it remains stable.

PTTEP will present a safety case revision to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (NOPSA) to reboard the platform to assess the damage, and plan for the next phase of the operation. Although it is too early to give a detailed account of the damage, the company said the cantilever portion of the West Atlas had buckled during the fire and was resting on top of the platform.

It is likely the company will spray the platform with seawater to cool it before reboarding.

PTTEP has spent in excess of $170 million (Aus.) since the leak began.

A Commission of Inquiry into the incident will be instigated by the Australian government and a commissioner appointed by the end of this week. NOPSA will conduct its own separate inquiry.

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