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Gas flare on leaking North Sea drilling platform extinguished

LONDON -- A flare near Total's Elgin drilling platform has gone out, reducing the threat of explosion at a massive gas leak from a North Sea well, the company's chief executive said on Saturday.

"The flare on the Elgin platform was extinguished last night,'' Christophe de Margerie wrote on Total's Twitter account.

A spokesman confirmed the tweet, saying the flame had gone out by itself without technical intervention.   

The flare had been lit as part of Total's response to a gas leak at the Elgin drilling platform off Scotland's east coast, to relieve pressure in the well.

"We received the first indication that the flare may be out at 12:07 (7:07 p.m. ET Thursday) yesterday from our first surveillance of the day," a spokesman told the BBC.

"The news was then reaffirmed at 16:36 (11:36 a.m. ET) following our second flight of the day. We received what we consider final confirmation at 8:20 (3:20 a.m. ET) this morning, when our sea vessels on location reported no further flare activity through the night."

Located about 110 yards away from the rig, it raised fears of a massive explosion were it to ignite the natural gas that has been leaking below the platform for six days.

Oil company says it has found source of gas leak off Scottish coast

While Total had dismissed the risk of a blast, one engineering consultant warned that Elgin could become "an explosion waiting to happen''.

Options to extinguish the flare had included dropping water from a helicopter or spraying nitrogen overhead to starve the flame of oxygen. In the end, the flare went out by itself.

Highly explosive gas cloud
The leak, which began on Sunday, is spewing an estimated 200,000 cubic metres of natural gas into the air per day, forming a highly explosive gas cloud around the platform.

It began after pressure rose in a well that had earlier been capped.

French energy company Total says natural gas is still escaping from its Elgin North Sea platform. They are preparing to drill relief wells to help bring the situation under control, but that could take months. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

A team of international experts is advising on how to plug the leak and Total said on Friday it would drill two relief wells, a process that could take six months and cost up to $3 billion.

Total evacuated its 238 platform workers, and set up a two-mile exclusion zone for safety reasons, with fire-fighting ships on standby.

North Sea exclusion zone set as gas surges from leak

A senior union official said on Friday that Total had repeatedly assured workers a leak was impossible until just hours before evacuating them.

Msnbc.com staff and Reuters contributed to this report.

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