Algeria, West Africa - USA helps fight main gas well fire; spark blamed : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Updated: Thursday January 27, 2000

Business News - Oil & Gas

U.S. team helps tackle Algerian gas well fire

Algiers (Reuters) - Algerian state-owned gas and oil firm Sonatrach said yesterday U.S. experts and equipment had been brought to help put out a nine-day fire still raging at a well in Hassi R'mel's giant gas field. But Sonatrach, in a statement faxed to Reuters, said that that ouput and export flows were unaffected by the fire.

"The close collaboration between Boots and Coots' experts and Sonatrach's specialists made the work advance speedily," it added. Boots and Coots is a subsidiary of U.S.-based Halliburton Co.

Sonatrach said it had purchased U.S. firefighting equipment and rushed them to southern Algeria on a special flight three days ago. A team of U.S. experts had arrived to the blaze site four days earlier. The fire hit the HR64 gas well within Algeria's Hassi R'mel main gas field on January 18 during a work-over operation. "The fire broke out at 1:20am (0020 GMT) on January 18. A metal rod ejected under the effect of vibration and caused a spark during its free fall. The spark caused the fire," it said.

The well has a daily production capacity of one million cubic metres. It is located on the periphery of Hassi R'mel field which produces most of Algeria's gas. "Sonatrach's custumers are supplied normally with gas produced from Hassi R'mel, either through transcontinental gas pipelines or through gas tankers from the liquified natural gas complexes in Arzew and Skikda," the Sonatrach statement said.

The western port-city of Arzew and Skikda, in the east, are Algeria's main gas and oil export outlets. "The operations launched on the blaze will very shortly lead to the full control of the eruption," the statement said.

Algeria currently exports 60 billion cubic metres per year. Around one quarter of imported Western European gas comes from Algeria.

Meanwhile, TotalFina said in Paris yesterday the Algerian government wanted French and European companies to boost their presence there and that TotalFina would be pleased to comply.

"We have seen the representatives of the new Algerian government, in particular the new minister for petrol, who told us of President (Abdelaziz) Bouteflika's wish to see French companies, European companies in general, being more active in the country," TotalFina's Christophe de Margerie said.

Speaking at a news conference de Margerie, who heads TotalFina's exploration and production division, said he had reminded the authorities that the French company had always maintained a presence in Algeria.

"To the extent it is possible, we would of course be ready to follow the recommendation from the government and president," de Margerie said. According to French export credit insurer Coface, the state guaranteed credit for Algeria which has not been used will be renewed and may end up being devoted to the oil sector.

"There are rumblings," a Coface official told Reuters on Tuesday. As Compagnie Francaise des Petroles (CFP), TotalFina took part in the 1956 discovery of Algeria's biggest oil field at Hassi Messaoud, along with the French companies that eventually became TotalFina's recent acquisition Elf Aquitaine.

While Elf quit production in Algeria in 1971 when Algeria nationalised its oil production, TotalFina maintained its presence. Elf returned to Algeria last year amid a gradual thawing of relations between France and its former colony.

Source: [Persian] Gulf News, United Arab Emirates

-- Lee Maloney (, March 19, 2000

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