Sunday, October 18, 2009

Third attempt fails to plug oil and gas leak

A Thai-based oil company on Saturday failed in its third attempt to plug a leaking rig that has spilled thousands of barrels of crude into seas off Australia, alarming environmentalists.

PTTEP Australasia said it had missed its target for a relief well some 2.6 kilometres (1.6 miles) below the seabed for the third time this month, and would try again in the coming days.

The leaking wellhead, some 25 centimetres (10 inches) wide, has been gushing off Australia's northwest since August 21 with estimates putting the discharge at 400 barrels a day.

"Setting up for each pass sequence takes between three and four days," PTTEP said in a statement.

"Implementing the pass sequence must then be undertaken during daylight hours for safety reasons.

"Once the leaking well is successfully intercepted, heavy mud will be pumped from the West Triton down into the relief well, displacing the oil, gas and water and stopping the flow."

The spill is reportedly Australia's worst since offshore drilling began more than 40 years ago, and ecologists fear the toxic cocktail of oil and dispersant chemicals could threaten marine and coastal species.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett, ex-frontman of rock band Midnight Oil, this week said PTTEP had agreed to pay for environmental monitoring of the area for at least two years.

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