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Oil spill company seeks industry help
Oil spill company seeks industry help

The operator of the crippled West Atlas oil rig has convened a war cabinet with its competitors and a famed Texan oil well firefighting firm to find a way of plugging the leak and solve the industry's public relations disaster.

The West Australian understands Thai company PTTEP called the crisis meeting in Perth yesterday after mounting concern that the leak was harming Australia's international reputation in the oil and gas sector.

The Montara oil well burst on August 21 and has spewed an estimated 25,000 barrels of oil and gas into the Timor Sea, creating an environmental hazard attracting unflattering headlines worldwide.

PTTEP's attempts to plug the leak have failed three times and a fourth attempt, originally scheduled for last Thursday, has been delayed until today because of technical hitches.

As a measure of how worried the industry has become, five oil and gas companies met at PTTEP Australasia's headquarters yesterday to review the company's efforts to handle the issue. Woodside, Inpex, Vermillion, AGR Petroleum Services and Apache sent drilling experts to the meeting, which was also attended by Texan company Boots & Coots.

Boots & Coots is one of the world's top well control companies and was instrumental in the capping of oil wells in Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

The founders of the company were allied with legendary oil well fighter Red Adair, the inspiration and adviser for the 1968 John Wayne film Hellfighters. Boots & Coots sometimes uses explosives to quell oil blazes.

An industry source said there was widespread anxiety about the broader impact of the West Atlas incident.

"This has put the spotlight on Australia's oil field practices and we are all very keen to have it resolved quickly and efficiently," the source said.

It is understood the companies advising PTTEP are doing so on the undertaking it is "without prejudice" so that no liability is conferred on them by their involvement.

Last week, the environmental clean-up was estimated to have cost PTTEP $5.3 million.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said he welcomed PTTEP's decision to seek help. "The best advice available to me is that the technical approach being taken is the safest and best available and that the best technology and resources are being used to stop the leak," Mr Ferguson said.

Plugging the leak involves steering a drill through rock 2.6km below the seabed to a 25cm diameter pipe.

Shadow resources minister Ian Macfarlane last week advocated a "deluge strategy" to stop the leak whereby the oil rig is drenched in water while emergency crews plug the leak from the platform, if the next plugging attempt failed.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority has subjected the West Atlas platform to a prohibition notice, effectively banning this tactic.

Mr Ferguson said the Government would heed NOPSA's advice.