Gulf platform evacuated after leak from decades-old well

Five workers evacuated a platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday evening when gas condensate began escaping from a Talos Energy well.

The decades-old well south of Louisiana has been inactive for 15 years. Workers were conducting operations to plug and permanently abandon it when saltwater containing a small amount of gas and light condensate began to flow from the well, said Talos Energy president Timothy Duncan.

“In an abundance of caution, we decided to evacuate the platform and mobilize our spill response team,” Duncan said. “We are focused on the safety of our personnel while taking all appropriate measures to limit any environmental impact.”

Duncan speculated that the age of the tubing may have contributed to the incident.

Because the well taps into an old field first developed in the 1970s and was producing mostly water at a low-flowing pressure of 175 pounds per square inch when it was last operational in 1998, the new discharge may be leaking slowly with relatively few hydrocarbons.

Still, a light rainbow sheen was detected at the site. Workers estimated the sheen spanned an area four miles wide by three quarters of a mile long.

In a statement, Talos said that “because the well is flowing mostly water at very low pressure, we believe that approximately six barrels of light condensate have been discharged in the last 24 hour.”

Duncan said the company was “doing everything we can to have the well under control as soon as possible, which we expect to be within the next 24 hours.”

Workers returned to the site Tuesday to work to rein in the well. Talos is getting help from specialists at Wild Well Control.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and Coast Guard are overseeing Talos’ response and will conduct an investigation of the incident. Agency officials are stationed at a command center in Houston, monitoring well control and pollution response efforts.

Coast Guard and safety bureau officials conducted an overflight of the site Tuesday and documented natural gas flowing from the well.

Two other wells at the platform were producing at the time and have subsequently been shut-in, federal officials said.

A private, Houston-based oil and gas company, Talos acquired the well from Energy Resource Technology in February.

There have been serious incidents at other ERT facilities in the Gulf, including a fatal crane accident at an offshore production facility operated by the company in August 2011.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement faulted ERT for failing to maintain equipment in a safe condition; among the problems was severely corroded, four-year-old boom hoist wire rope. Critical corrosion and lubrication issues had gone undetected during a contractor’s annual inspection six months before the incident, and workers on the site failed to conduct an inspection before the crane was used, the safety bureau said.

The leaking well is located in Ship Shoal block 225, about 74 miles southwest of Port Fourchon, La. The facility has been the subject of an active idle iron removal program, approved by federal regulators at the safety bureau, under which Talos decommissions and removes old structures.