A well that is leaking gas and condensate on the Elgin field production platform in the North Sea could have an impact on Shell’s exploration plans offshore Alaska. The leak was detected at 12:15 p.m. on March 25. Total quickly evacuated 238 people that were working on the Elgin platform and the nearby Rowan Viking drilling rig. The platform is about 150 miles off the coast of Aberdeen. As a precautionary measure, Shell evacuated 52 personnel from its Shearwater platform and 33 people from the Noble Hans Duel rig. This platform is about 4.6 miles from the Elgin platform. Thirty-eight workers remain on the platform and 79 on the drilling rig. "While the move is purely precautionary and primarily driven by the prevailing weather conditions, and both facilities remain operational, it has been decided to reduce numbers to a more manageable level until the full situation surrounding the Elgin leak has been established," according to a Shell spokesperson. Total E&P UK operates the Elgin platform, and said it was taking "all possible measures" to try to identify the source and cause of the leak and to bring it under control. A U.K. newspaper noted that shutting down and clearing the platform is unprecedented in the North Sea. Given Shell’s commitment to safety, it makes sense that the company would take measures to evacuate nonessential personnel from its platform and rig. The fact that Shell was in the area and evacuating its rigs didn’t take long to get around the world. And, it didn’t take long for the speculation about its Alaska exploration to begin. An article in the March 26 edition of the Alaska Dispatch was headlined “North Sea Offshore Spill Raises Concerns About Arctic Drilling.” The article started, “As Shell Oil Co. moves toward the start of long-awaited exploration in the Alaska's Chukchi Sea, it's facing problems in the North Sea.” Although the newspaper noted that it wasn’t Shell’s platform that was the source of the leak, the article continued, “The problems in the North Sea at the moment are expected to provide more ammunition for environmental organizations fighting to block drilling off the far, northwest coast of the 49th state. Drilling opponents argue oilfield technology just isn't good enough to guarantee there won't be a disaster.” In today’s world, speculation seems to carry more weight than fact. Several environmental groups were berating Total for not being more transparent about the leak. The company said several times that nothing has changed. Total has no one on the platform. That would mean there was no way for them to know more than what was already reported. And, speculation travels very quickly in today’s world. Rather than focusing on Shell’s precautionary measures, the anti-drilling groups only commented on Total’s leak. However, there is a very broad brush that stains the entire industry. I applaud Shell’s actions. That, to me, said more about the company’s focus on reducing accidents than anything else Shell could have done. The Elgin field leak is not the same as the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The actions taken by the oil companies are a very clear indication that the industry has learned from its mistakes. The disaster on the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea was also mentioned in the press coverage for the Elgin platform. There were no fatalities or injuries in the Elgin incident. The field is also a gas-condensate field, which reduces the spill footprint. Condensate rapidly evaporates, so the oil slick isn’t expected to extend very far. There is sour gas in the field, which is another safety concern that is being addressed. However, if you are going to have a company drilling in the Arctic, it would be good to have one like Shell that is so safety conscious. That can make a critical difference. Contact the author, Scott Weeden, at sweeden@hartenergy.com.