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Brent pipeline still closed as North Sea industry hit by outages

BY CASSIE WERBER

LONDON -- The Brent crude-oil pipeline system remained closed Monday as work continued to contain a second hydrocarbon leak this year at a key North Sea platform.

"At the moment we don' t have any kind of timescale on when we can be up and running again," a spokeswoman for TAQA Bratani, operator of the Cormorant Alpha platform, told Dow Jones Newswires, adding "everything is completely under control" on the platform that houses the pipeline' s pumping mechanism.

The Brent pipeline system delivers 100,000 bopd of the benchmark crude from North Sea fields to the export terminal at Sullom Voe, in the Shetland Islands.

Cormorant Alpha was also shut down and partially evacuated in January following a similar incident. TAQA Bratani, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi National Energy Co., said on both occasions that no hydrocarbons had been released into the environment, while Saturday' s statement said that all staff were safe and well.

The outage has several knock-on effects. Oil from 27 fields flows through the platform, a process that is on hold until it is again functional.

The UK natural-gas industry has also been affected. Total' s St. Fergus terminal, north of Aberdeen, which delivers an average 21% of the gas used in the UK each day, cannot operate due to the issues further up the production chain.

"The problem at Cormorant Alpha means we can' t export our condensates and, as it isn' t possible to produce gas without condensates, we have had to stop all hydrocarbon export from [our fields at] Alwyn [which flows to St. Fergus]...this has been the case since Saturday morning," a spokesman for Total wrote in an email.

Other production issues are affecting the UK' s offshore oil and gas industry this week. The Elgin-Franklin gas field, also operated by Total, remains closed after a leak last year while the U.K.' s offshore regulator assesses the case for a restart. Maintenance at the UK' s largest oil field, the 200,000 bopd Buzzard, continues to diminish volumes of oil flowing to shore.

An oil trader said Monday that the volume from Buzzard is reduced due to "pigging work on the pipe," but didn' t know the extent of the shortfall. Last week production was seen running at around 80,000 bopd, according to oil traders.

Field operator Nexen, which is now a subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Co., confirmed last week that maintenance was taking place but didn' t comment on by how much volume would be diminished.

David Hufton, an analyst for consultancy and brokerage PVM, said that the incidents had given a boost to the price of oil futures, and that the "front month Brent spread is firmer." He said: "It isn' t a drama, just another North Sea production irritant that keeps the market on its toes."

The oil and gas industry is one of the main drivers of the UK economy, as evidenced by the sector' s effect on fourth quarter gross domestic product data. A prolonged total closure at Buzzard in late 2012 contributed to the economy shrinking more than expected in the final three months of the year.

Dow Jones Newswires


 

03/04/2013

 

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