Category Archives: Atlantic Ocean

The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world’s oceanic divisions.

“Atlantic”, “North Atlantic”, “South Atlantic”, and “Atlantic Basin” . For other uses, see Atlantic (disambiguation), North Atlantic (disambiguation), South Atlantic (disambiguation), and Atlantic Basin (disambiguation).

UK: Flare at Elgin Platform Could Ignite Gas Cloud, Experts Say

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The gas leak that occurred at the wellhead platform on the Total-operated Elgin field in the UK North Sea, remains ongoing, the operator reports.

The gas has been flowing since Sunday, March 25th, when Total evacuated all the personnel from the Elgin platform. The precise cause of the gas leak, that has been flowing approximately 240 km east of Aberdeen, is yet to be identified.

According to The Telegraph, experts have warned that the gas cloud which can be seen is very flammable and they described the situation as a disaster waiting to happen because the flare on the Elgin platform is still ongoing.

Total explains that the flare is an integral part of the platform’s safety system, and it is used to safely evacuate all the remaining gas from the platform.  The company says that the flare does not pose a threat, because the winds are taking the gas cloud away from the open flame.

“The wind is forecast to remain in its current direction for the coming days.  You can be assured that this is being reviewed on a constant basis and should this change any impact is being assessed.  In parallel we are investigating solutions to extinguish the flare if it does not burn out by itself.”

Elgin and Franklin are two high pressure/high temperature gas and condensate fields in the Central Graben Area of North Sea. Total E&P UK Limited owns 46.17% and is operator of both fields through its wholly-owned subsidiary EFOG and its average share of production was around 60,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2011.

Elgin/Franklin facilities comprise two wellhead platforms, one on Elgin and one on Franklin and a Production/Utilities/Quarters (PUQ) platform. The PUQ is on the Elgin field and is linked to the Elgin wellhead platform by a 90-metre bridge.

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Oil leaders, GOP allies, downplay administration’s seismic plans

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House Natural Resources Committee chairman Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash, leads a committee hearing. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Posted on March 28, 2012 at 11:37 am
by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

The Obama administration’s announcement that it may allow seismic studies potentially paving the way for offshore drilling along the East Coast is political posturing designed to distract voters concerned about high gasoline prices, oil industry leaders and Republican lawmakers said today.

The administration’s move “continues the president’s election-year political ploy of giving speeches and talking about drilling after having spent the first three years in office blocking, delaying and driving up the cost of producing energy in America,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. “The president is focused on trying to talk his way out of what he’s done, rather than taking real steps to boost American energy production.”

At issue is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s announcement in Norfolk, Va., this morning that the government is assessing the environmental effects of allowing seismic surveys along the mid- and south-Atlantic that could help locate hidden pockets of oil and gas. If ultimately approved, the studies by private geological research companies also could help guide decisions about where to place renewable energy projects off the coast.

The Interior Department is issuing a draft environmental impact statement that assesses the consequences of seismic research on marine life in the area. The Obama administration had planned to release a similar document in 2010, before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

If the draft environmental assessment is finalized after public comments and hearings, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management could give companies permits to conduct the studies off the coasts of eight East Coast states.

Salazar said that if the geological research turned up promising results, that could open the door to offshore drilling in the area within five years, even though the administration currently has ruled out that kind of exploration before 2017. A government plan for selling offshore drilling leases from 2012 to 2017 does not include any auctions of Atlantic territory.

“If the information that is developed allows us to move forward in a quicker time frame, we can always come in with an amendment,” Salazar said. “We’re not prejudging that at this point in time. My view is … we need to develop information so we can make those wise decisions.”

Industry officials noted that under federal laws, it could take years for the government to revise the 2012-2017 leasing plan, even if federal officials decided to pursue Atlantic drilling.

Erik Milito, upstream director for the American Petroleum Institute, said the administration is repackaging old news and old plans to make it appear it is making real progress to encourage more domestic energy development.

“This is political rhetoric to make it appear the administration is doing something on gas prices, but in reality it is little more than an empty gesture,” Milito said.

Randall Luthi, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, likened the administration’s announcement to giving the industry “a canoe with no oars, since there are no lease sales planned anywhere off the East Coast.”

If allowed to conduct seismic surveys, geological research firms would ultimately give the resulting information to the government and sell it to companies eager to analyze the data.

But Milito questioned whether seismic companies would pursue the work, given that some of their best customers — oil companies — wouldn’t be able to use it to plan offshore drilling for years, if at all.

“Without an Atlantic coast lease sale in their five-year plan, the administration’s wishful thinking on seismic research has no ultimate purpose,” Milito said. “The White House has banned lease sales in the Atlantic for at least the next five years, discouraging the investment and job creation, and ultimately production, which would make seismic exploration valuable.”

Still, at least six companies already have told the government they want to conduct seismic research along the East Coast.

“We have gotten significant expressions of interest from companies in contracting for these seismic surveys,” said Tommy Beaudreau, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “I am confident that, assuming the process continues on the track we anticipate, that there will be significant interest next year in conducting these surveys.”

Geological research uses seismic waves to map what lies underground or beneath the ocean floor. The shock waves — which some environmental advocates say may harm marine life — map the density of subterranean material and can gives clues about possible oil and gas.

Seismic studies also help identify geologic hazards and archaeological resources in the seabed — information useful in determining the placement of renewable energy infrastructure as well as oil and gas equipment.

The existing seismic surveys of the Atlantic coast are decades old, and in the years since, “there have been enormous technological advances,” Salazar noted.

“We do need to have seismic moving forward so we can really understand what the resource potential is,” Salazar added.

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Fitch: Total Gas Leak ‘Not Another Deepwater Horizon’

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by  Jon Mainwaring
Rigzone Staff
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The gas leak at Total’s wellhead platform on the Elgin gas field in the North Sea is not as serious as BP’s Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010, said Fitch Ratings Wednesday.

The ratings agency added that even in the event of a shutdown of the whole Elgin field, it believes that Total is likely to retain its ‘AA’ credit rating as it has the cash resources to more than cover any associated costs.

“The Elgin leak is a surface gas leak rather than an underwater oil leak, making its potential for environmental damage far lower than in the Deepwater Horizon case,” said Fitch in a press statement Wednesday. “These sorts of accidents are often difficult to resolve and unpredictable; nonetheless, in our view the potential is low for this leak to escalate to a crisis on the scale of Deepwater Horizon. Total’s preliminary assessment suggests there has been no significant impact on the environment and the use of dispersants has not been considered.”

However, Fitch added that it had considered a “worse-than-base-case” scenario where Total may have to shut down the Elgin field to stop the gas leak. “This would imply the loss of a producing field that is worth, in net present value terms, EUR 5.7 billion [$7.6 billion] according to third-party valuations. Were the field to become permanently unusable it would cost Total EUR 2.6 billion [$3.5 billion] and the company might have to compensate its partners for the remaining EUR 3.1 billion [$4.1 billion],” Fitch said.

On Tuesday Dow Jones reported a source saying that the proximity of vessels owned by Transocean and Rowan to the Elgin platform may sway Total’s decision in hiring a firm to drill relief wells to cap the leak.

Currently, Transocean’s Sedco 714 (mid-water semisub) is drilling for Total in the North Sea, while a Rowan jack-up rig was used for drilling work at Elgin.

Total said Tuesday it is studying all options and could take time to make a decision, while dismissing reports that claimed the company had indicated it could take up to six months to drill a relief well.

“They are not details that have come from us at all,” a Total spokesperson told Rigzone Tuesday morning, explaining that the company did not yet have a timescale in place regarding the drilling of a relief well.

Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell reported Tuesday that it removed oil workers from two of its North Sea rigs due to the proximity to Total’s Elgin/Franklin platform.

In a statement, Shell said it had reduced personnel on its Shearwater platform and the nearby Nobel Hans Deul drilling rig. Drilling operations on the Noble Hans Deul (400′ ILC) rig, which is located offshore Scotland 138 miles east of Aberdeen, have been suspended and the wells “left in a safe state,” said Shell.

“While the move is purely precautionary and primarily driven by the prevailing weather conditions, and both facilities remain operational, it has been decided to reduce numbers to a more manageable level until the full situation surrounding the Elgin leak has been established,” said a Shell spokesperson.

Shell also reported Tuesday that it is using the downtime as an opportunity to conduct maintenance on one of its rigs.

“Further to the precautionary safety measures we took yesterday following Total’s gas leak at Elgin, we have no brought forward plans to carry out maintenance at Shearwater. This will take place from today, starting four days ahead of schedule. We are therefore shutting down production in a controlled manner,” said a Shell spokesperson.

Total reported Monday that it had evacuated the Elgin platform’s crew and reported that all 238 personnel had been accounted for.

A former engineer, Jon Mainwaring is an experienced journalist who has written about the technology, engineering and energy industries. Email Jon at jmainwaring@rigzone.com.

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Obama administration advances plan for seismic research along Atlantic coast

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Posted on March 28, 2012 at 12:01 am by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

The Obama administration will announce Wednesday that it is advancing a plan to allow new seismic research designed to help identify hidden pockets of oil and gas in Atlantic waters along the East Coast.

The move by the Interior Department is the beginning of a long path that eventually could lead to new offshore drilling off the coast from Delaware to Florida.

Senior administration officials who spoke exclusively to the Houston Chronicle confirmed the plan on condition they not be identified ahead of the official announcement.

The plan could mean new work for Houston-based seismic firms, which likely would conduct some of the first such surveys of the region in decades.

The announcement comes as President Barack Obama tries to assuage concerns about rising oil and gasoline prices ahead of the November election, amid Republican criticism that his energy policies have sent costs higher.

The administration had signaled plans to allow Atlantic seismic research before the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill stalled approval of offshore activities.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will announce the plan in Norfolk, Va. at Fugro Atlantic, a company that conducts geotechnical and marine research.

Future seismic research in the Atlantic waters could help guide decisions about where to allow drilling leases and equipment that generates renewable energy, such as wind turbines.

But it would be at least five years before the government sold any leases in Atlantic waters. Interior Department plans governing those decisions through 2017 do not include lease sales  in the region.

Geological research uses seismic waves to map what lies underground or beneath the ocean floor. The shock waves — which some environmental advocates say may harm marine life — map the density of subterranean material and can gives clues about possible oil and gas.

Seismic studies also help identify geologic hazards and archaeological resources in the seabed —  information useful in determining the placement of renewable energy infrastructure as well as oil and gas equipment.

Energy companies use the data to plan where to buy leases and how to prioritize projects. But they know little about what lies below federal waters along the East Coast. Existing seismic surveys of the area are more than 25 years old and were conducted with now-outdated technology.

Oil industry officials have downplayed the significance of allowing seismic surveys along the Atlantic Coast, noting the government makes no guarantee that it will let them drill. That skepticism also could limit the market for seismic research firms.

But the administration has said that collecting the data for different regions — even if they aren’t targeted immediately for development — is key to understanding their potential. Obama asked the Interior Department to speed up its search for Atlantic resources in May 2011.

Wednesday’s action takes the form of a federally required draft statement on the environmental effects of seismic surveys in the outer continental shelf along the East Coast.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on that draft environmental impact statement during hearings along the East Coast.

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Scientists Conduct Expedition of Atlantis Massif in North Atlantic Ocean

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Scientists recently concluded an expedition aboard the research vessel JOIDES Resolution to learn more about Atlantis Massif, an undersea mountain, or seamount, that formed in a very different way than the majority of the seafloor in the oceans.

Unlike volcanic seamounts, which are made of the basalt that’s typical of most of the seafloor, Atlantis Massif includes rock types that are usually only found much deeper in the ocean crust, such as gabbro and peridotite.

The expedition, known as Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 340T, marks the first time the geophysical properties of gabbroic rocks have successfully been measured directly in place, rather than via remote techniques such as seismic surveying.

With these measurements in hand, scientists can now infer how these hard-to-reach rocks will “look” on future seismic surveys, making it easier to map out geophysical structures beneath the seafloor.

“This is exciting because it means that we may be able to use seismic survey data to infer the pattern of seawater circulation within the deeper crust,” says Donna Blackman of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., co-chief scientist for Expedition 340T.

“This would be a key step for quantifying rates and volumes of chemical, possibly biological, exchange between the oceans and the crust.”

Atlantis Massif sits on the flank of an oceanic spreading center that runs down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

As the tectonic plates separate, new crust is formed at the spreading center and a combination of stretching, faulting and the intrusion of magma from below shape the new seafloor.

Periods of reduced magma supplied from the underlying mantle result in the development of long-lived, large faults. Deep portions of the crust shift upward along these faults and may be exposed at the seafloor.

This process results in the formation of an oceanic core complex, or OCC, and is similar to the processes that formed the Basin and Range province of the Southwest United States.

“Recent discoveries from scientific ocean drilling have underlined that the process of creating new oceanic crust at seafloor spreading centers is complex,” says Jamie Allan, IODP program director at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which co-funds the program.

“This work significantly adds to our ability to infer ocean crust structure and composition, including predicting how ocean crust has ‘aged’ in an area,” says Allan, “thereby giving us new tools for understanding ocean crust creation from Earth’s mantle.”

Atlantis Massif is a classic example of an oceanic core complex.

Because it’s relatively young–formed within the last million years–it’s an ideal place, scientists say, to study how the interplay between faulting, magmatism and seawater circulation influences the evolution of an OCC within the crust.

“Vast ocean basins cover most of the Earth, yet their crust is formed in a narrow zone,” says Blackman. “We’re studying that source zone to understand how rifting and magmatism work together to form a new plate.”

The JOIDES Resolution first visited Atlantis Massif about seven years ago; the science team on that expedition measured properties in gabbro.

But they focused on a shallower section, where pervasive seawater circulation had weathered the rock and changed its physical properties.

For the current expedition, the team did not drill new holes.

Rather, they lowered instruments into a deep existing hole drilled on a previous expedition, and made measurements from inside the hole.

The new measurements, at depths between 800 and 1,400 meters (about 2,600-4,600 feet) below the seafloor, include only a few narrow zones that had been altered by seawater circulation and/or by fault slip deformation.

The rest of the measurements focused on gabbroic rocks that have remained unaltered thus far.

The properties measured in the narrow zones of altered rock differ from the background properties measured in the unaltered gabbroic rocks.

The team found small differences in temperature next to two sub-seafloor faults, which suggests a slow percolation of seawater within those zones.

There were also significant differences in the speed at which seismic waves travel through the altered vs. unaltered zones.

“The expedition was a great opportunity to ground-truth our recent seismic analysis,” says Alistair Harding, also from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a co-chief scientist for Expedition 340T.

“It also provides vital baseline data for further seismic work aimed at understanding the formation and alteration of the massif.”

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) is an international research program dedicated to advancing scientific understanding of the Earth through drilling, coring and monitoring the subseafloor.

The JOIDES Resolution is a scientific research vessel managed by the U.S. Implementing Organization of IODP (USIO). Texas A&M University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership comprise the USIO.

Two lead agencies support the IODP: the U.S. National Science Foundation and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Additional program support comes from the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling, the Australia-New Zealand IODP Consortium, India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences, the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources.

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