THE operator of an offshore well that has leaked tens of millions of litres of oil into the Timor Sea for the past eight weeks has failed for the third time to stop the spill.The Thai company PTTEP Australasia will now make a fourth attempt on Thursday after it failed on Saturday to plug the leak, which began when the Montara offshore drilling rig suffered a well-head accident on August 21.The spill, which is about 160 kilometres off the north-western coast of Australia, spread over 7000 square nautical miles at its peak. It crossed into Indonesian waters and came close to the marine reserves of Ashmore and Cartier reefs.The West Triton drilling rig, which reached the site five weeks ago after being towed from Singapore, is being used in attempts to intercept the leaking well, 2.6 kilometres under the seabed, and pump in heavy mud to block the leak.It has to intersect a 25- centimetre diameter casing, which is detected by sophisticated electro-magnetic ranging tools, before the plugging operation can proceed.A spokesman for the company said yesterday that the further delay in attempts to intersect the leaking well was necessary to calculate the last drill pass’s distance and direction from the casing.The company also had to ensure all safety procedures and equipment checks were carried out between each attempt to reach the leak, he said.The spill at the well-head platform, which began at an estimated rate of 400 barrels a day, could leak more than 37 million litres of oil into the Timor Sea before it is plugged.The spokesman said that while the company had agreed to pay the Federal Government’s costs of monitoring the spill, it was making no comment on that aspect of the operation.The oil slick has so far been carried north and has not reached the West Australian coast, but the federal Department of Environment says more than a dozen sea birds have died as a result of coming into contact with the slick.Fishermen in West Timor say the spill is responsible for mass fish deaths and is threatening their livelihood.They also say people have become sick after eating dead fish found on the Indonesian province’s beaches.The PTTEP spokesman said that if Thursday’s well interception succeeded, heavy mud to plug the leak would be pumped in immediately to displace the oil, gas and water in the well.A 24-hour safety stand-off period will be declared before the troubleshooting team from ALERT Well Control can board the well-head platform.While the leak would have already been stopped, two plugs would be sunk into the previously leaking well bore in an operation expected to take another week, the spokesman said.PTTEP has refused to comment on the cost of the spill to the company, other than to say it is ”substantial”. Industry estimates have put it as high as $100 million.AAP
Nanjing Night Net

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