French oil major Total dismissed fears on Wednesday of a blast at its Elgin North Sea platform, despite explosive natural gas is bubbling less than 100 meters from a flare left burning when workers had to evacuate the site.
"The platform could become an explosion waiting to happen," said engineering industry consultant John Shanks.
Total said the flare, which normally burns to regulate gas pressure at safe levels, had not been shut down when the platform was evacuated Sunday, Reuters said.
"We have not precisely identified the cause of the incident," a spokesman for Total in Paris said.
A Total UK spokesman in Aberdeen said the flare was on a separate platform from the leak, though only a short distance away, Reuters said.
"The leak is on the wellhead platform and the flare is on the Processing, Utilities and Quarters platform. There is a gap of 90 meters (300 feet) between the two," he said.
The leak developed in a well that workers were in the process of capping and abandoning, the New York Times said. The Elgin platform produces about 3 percent of Britain's total gas output but has a reputation for being troublesome because of the unusually high pressure in the undersea gas reservoir that it taps, the article said.
The firm warned on Tuesday it could take six months to halt the flow of gas, and analysts' opinions were divided on how serious the leak might be, Reuters said.
"Under normal conditions, the deeper the leak, the more difficult remedial work will be," Shanks said.