French oil major Total has further delayed plans to fly engineers to stem an 11-day leak of explosive gas at its North Sea Elgin platform due to continuing adverse weather conditions, a company spokesman said on Wednesday.
He said strong winds were still blowing the gas cloud towards where a helicopter carrying the team of crisis engineers would land, pushing relief efforts back to Thursday or Friday.
Wind direction was initially forecast by the UK's MetOffice to change by Wednesday evening and through Thursday morning, blowing gas away from the landing point and allowing a team of eight experts to assess the steps needed to stop the large and potentially explosive leak.
Elgin gas platform graphic: http://link.reuters.com/cut47s
Total share price graph: http://link.reuters.com/nyz47s
The company said on Tuesday the team of engineers would assess conditions on the platform and find out whether a so-called well kill was feasible through pumping mud into the well and whether any other measures would be necessary.
Total says the gas leak is costing it $2.5 million (1.5 million pounds) a day.
Another, more expensive option being pursued in parallel is to dig two relief wells to the source of the gas at 4,000 metres depth, far below the sea bed.
Experts have said that can take up to six months to complete, and Total says it will push up daily costs to $3 million.
Total's share prices have dropped by 6.5 percent since the leak was reported last week, knocking over 6 billion euros ($8.00 billion) off its share value.
It said the team of engineers would consist of staff from Total and U.S. specialist company Wild Well Control.
Firefighters and engineers from the Houston-based company are experts at disasters such as oil rig explosions and have been dubbed Hellfighters by Hollywood.
The gas leak was reported on March 25 and is spewing an estimated 200,000 cubic metres of natural gas from the evacuated platform 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.
Two firefighting vessels remain on standby outside a 2-mile exclusion zone around the Elgin platform, Total said.
(Additional reporting by Muriel Boselli in Paris; editing by James Jukwey)