How To Reenergize The Hard-Hit Oil And Gas Industry

Here’s a piece of legislation the Republican Congress should pass pronto: end the decades old, misbegotten ban on the export of crude oil, as well as the stifling bureaucratic restrictions on the export of natural gas. Astounding advances in technology and new discoveries of oil and natural gas reserves have skyrocketed U.S. energy production. America is drilling and refining more oil than it has in decades. Gas is so abundant that electric utilities can’t build or retrofit plants fast enough to absorb it all.

These barriers were put in place to help American businesses and consumers by keeping the stuff at home rather than letting foreigners get their hands on it. Back in the 1970s people thought we were running out of both resources because nominal prices were going up. The real cause was the weak dollar. When President Ronald Reagan and Paul Volcker’s Federal Reserve ended the terrible inflation of the 1970s, commodity prices crashed. Oil fell from almost $40 a barrel to $10 before stabilizing in the $20-to-$25 range.

In the early part of the last decade the Fed, with the connivance of the Treasury Department, weakened the greenback, with the same consequences: Commodity prices zoomed up, with oil reaching a peak of more than $140. Now that the dollar has strengthened—something the Fed didn’t intend, which says something about its competence—commodities such as oil have taken a hit, just as they did in the 1980s. The price of natural gas was already low because of the surplus generated by fracking.

This is why antiquated restrictions on oil and gas exports are especially harmful now. Our oil storage capacity has peaked, which means oil fields will have to cut production because there’s no place to store the stuff. It’s one thing when lower prices or less demand affect output; it’s quite another when production is reduced because of artificial, government-caused reasons. At a time when falling oil prices have put many drillers under serious financial pressure, removing wrong-headed obstacles to increase demand would make all the sense in the world.

Repealing these prohibitions would not only lead to more demand from overseas for our oil and gas but also bring closer the day that the U.S. becomes the world’s leading energy producer. More to the point, rising output at low prices will spur the use of natural gas—an ultraclean fossil fuel—for both new purposes (think transportation) and traditional ones, such as a raw material for the chemicals industry.

Opening up the export taps would also lead to a more efficient, i.e., cheaper, oil market. Most of our refineries, particularly on the Gulf Coast, are geared toward processing what’s known as “heavy” crudes. The surge in U.S. production, however, has come in what are labelled “sweet” or “light” crudes. It would make sense–and in dollars and cents–to allow us, in effect, to swap light crudes for heavy crudes until the day comes when we can construct new refineries here.

Licensing for liquefied natural gas export facilities should be approved in a timely manner instead of falling victim to the foot-dragging that’s all too common. The House of Representatives has passed such legislation. It should be coupled with a bill to end the ridiculous ban on oil exports and passed expeditiously.

Most people don’t realize that the U.S. is already the world’s largest exporter of fuels, which include diesel, gasoline and jet fuel. We send roughly 4 million barrels of these products overseas each day. In the natural gas arena U.S. producers have used technology to impressively lower costs. Whatever happens to the dollar, we can easily be a major player in the global fuel market.

It makes no sense to ignore this colossal opportunity any longer. According to one report, between 394,000 and 859,000 U.S. jobs could be created by lifting these export bans. Americans would receive lower long-term energy prices, and increased U.S. energy output would make the world a safer place.


Chinese company creates 3D-printed car for just $1,770

Chinese 3D tech company Sanya Sihai has created a bright orange electric-powered sedan which cost just $1,770 to manufacture.

Sanya Suhai unveiled the vehicle, China’s first 3D printed car, on Tuesday in the country’s southern Hainan province.

Building the vehicle reportedly took 1.5 months, with the printing part of the process taking about five days.

“The density of the material is much lighter than that of the metal, only one-seventh or one-eighth,” chief designer Chen Mingqiao explained. “Lighter weight will help save energy in the future.”

The fully functioning sedan was printed in a filament dubbed ‘Tyrant Gold’ and cost just $1,770 to build. It was printed using low-cost composite materials.

The vehicle, which is powered by rechargeable batteries, can reach speeds of up to 40 kilometers per hour (24 mph).

The world’s first 3D printed car, the Urbee, was created in the US in 2013 by design firm KOR EcoLogic, direct digital manufacturer RedEye on Demand, and 3D printing manufacturer Stratsys. Last year, the Arizona-based Local Motors printed the Strati car. The company has plans to custom print 3D cars for clients on demand.

Once more are produced, the Urbee’s sticker price will likely be between $16,000 and $50,000, while the Strati will probably cost between $18,000 and $30,000.

Last Spring, Chinese company WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. printed 10 single-story 3D-printed homes in under 24 hours. In January, WinSun used 3D printers to create a five-story house using construction wastes. It was the tallest building to ever be 3D printed.


Russian superhighway could connect London to New York

Russia has unveiled ambitious plans to build a superhighway that, in theory, could make it possible to drive from London on one end to New York on the other.

According to a report by The Siberian Times, the head of Russian Railways is asking the government to seriously consider his project dubbed the Trans-Eurasian Belt Development, the first modern transportation corridor that would link up the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.

Plans call for the construction of a new high-speed railway and the development of major roads that would span the length of Russia, link up with existing transportation networks in Europe and Asia — and cross the Bering Strait.

A network that would run about 20,000 km (12,400 miles) in length.

The proposal was presented at a meeting of the Russian Academy of Science and was touted, not only as a major transportation route, but as a means to create new cities and jobs in parts of Russia and Siberia that are woefully underdeveloped, and experience the hemorrhaging of young talent who leave the region for better opportunities abroad.

The new network could also be used to build pipelines for oil and gas as well as infrastructure for electricity and water supplies, said Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin.

The lofty proposal, however, comes with an equally sky-high price tag that could be trillions of dollars.

Currently, the longest international route operated by Russian Railways is Moscow to Pyongyang, North Korea, a 10,267-km (6,380 miles) journey that takes about nine days.


Iran ramps up sea power while negotiating nukes with West

While the U.S. haggles with Iran over nuclear weapons, the Islamic Republic is aggressively building up a navy — a move that has regional neighbors concerned.

The focus on Tehran’s nuclear weapons capabilities could be a mistake, if it comes at the exclusion of addressing the seafaring capabilities of the rogue regime, not to mention the active proxy fighting Iran is engaging in throughout the Middle East, a former U.S. Army officer with intimate knowledge of the Iranian military told And it isn’t just analysts warning that Iran has plans to project power and influence around the Persian Gulf — the nation’s top military officials are rattling their sabers on a near-daily basis.

“The Americans and our enemies cannot stand up against the Islamic system’s deterrence power no matter how hard they try,” Navy Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, told Iranian state-run media.

International sanctions have long stunted Iran’s ability to buy weapons, but the nation has nonetheless managed to acquire and even build one of the world’s largest naval fleets, according to the website Earlier this month, Iran touted its “homemade destroyer,” naval presence in international waters and “anti-surface and anti-subsurface weapons.” In February, Iran staged USS Cole-style missile and rocket attacks on a mock-up of a U.S. aircraft carrier.

The U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain across the Persian Gulf from Iran.

“We were aware of an exercise by Iranian naval forces involving a mockup of a vessel similar to an aircraft carrier last month,” U.S. Defense Department spokesperson, Cmdr. Elissa Smith, told “We are confident in our naval forces’ ability to defend themselves against any maritime threat.”

“They are reasonably capable by regional standards.”
– Michael Connell, Iranian military analyst

Iran’s naval headquarters is at Bandar Abbas, the southern coastal city on the Persian Gulf. Its frigates and destroyers are based there, and most of Iran’s higher-profile naval exercises have been launched from Bandar Abbas. The nation operates smaller bases on the Gulf and also has bases and its naval academy on the Caspian Sea, on Iran’s northern border.

Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution who testified on regional security during a March 24 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, says Iran’s naval abilities include mines, missiles and traditional assets.

“There’s no question [Iran] can do some damage,” Pollack told But “that crazy exercise” does not prove Iran “is a serious threat to the United States.”

Image taken from Iranian state TV shows damage to a mock U.S. aircraft carrier during large-scale naval and air defense drills by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, near the Strait of Hormuz, on Feb. 25. AP Photo/Iran TV)
“The mock carrier didn’t fire back,” said Michael Connell, a senior researcher with the Iranian Studies Program at Arlington, Va.-based CNA Corporation.

Connell believes the strengths of Iran’s two parallel navies include their “asymmetric” military investments in small boats that could launch “problematic” attacks, and their use of mines and missiles. But he also worries about their regional influence.

“They are reasonably capable by regional standards,” he said.

When the commander of Iran’s Northern Navy Fleet warned its shipes were headed to the U.S. last year, the world snickered. But Iran’s navy is a regional threat, say experts. (FARS News Agency)
In February 2014, a top Iranian admiral warned that two Iranian warships were headed toward the U.S., a threat Adm. Afshin Rezayee Haddad said was in response to the ongoing presence of the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet, which is based in Bahrain, across the Persian Gulf. But the British-built ships, which were reportedly carrying roughly 30 Iranian Navy academy cadets, likely never made it out of the Gulf, experts said.

Security experts say Iran’s conventional naval assets are no match for the U.S. and its allies. But American officials have pointed to Iran’s role in supporting the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Syrian government, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq as evidence of the country’s growing threat to the Middle East and the U.S.

“There is a dangerous delusion that Iran can be a force for good in the region,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during Tuesday’s Senate hearing.

A spokesperson for McCain directed to an earlier March joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in which the the two said:

“We cannot afford to treat Iran solely as an arms control challenge. Iran is a geopolitical challenge.”

The risk to regional security is among the greatest challenges Iran poses, according to Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security and a former Defense Department advisor on Iranian nuclear, military and political issues.

“Their support for terrorism is a threat to regional security,” Goldenberg told

Goldenberg argues that while Iran’s nuclear program is a major concern, the U.S. should be doing more to address Iran’s other risks to the region and the world.

Iran’s nuclear program “is the most important challenge, but … we should be doing more to push back,” Goldenberg said.


Automated Car Set To Drive Itself From San Francisco To New York

A road trip from California to New York that starts on Sunday is about to make headlines.
It has been billed as the longest journey ever for a self-driving car.
As CBS2’s Kara Tsuboi reported, three people will be riding in the modified Audi, but for a majority of the time no one will actually be driving.
“It’s the longest coast to coast journey of an automated car from San Francisco to New York,” John Absmeier said.

The car will make the 3,500 mile trip using Delphi’s self-driving technology which includes roughly 20 sensing systems.
“Around the periphery there’s forward vision, there’s radar, there’s also lidar, the car has high accuracy GPS, and also vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure communications,” Absmeier said.
Delphi is putting its autonomous driving system to the long-distance test to collect more data about highways, from on-ramp to off-ramp, the technology will control the car with an operator behind the wheel in case of emergency.
“We’re using radar and vision systems and those rely on the infrastructure and vehicles around them for the car to make decisions,” Absmeier said.
They won’t be hands free 100 percent of the time. In urban environments, operators will take over and drive.
Only five places in the U.S. including California, Washington D.C. and Nevada have specific regulations for autonomous driving. For the rest of the states the operator will follow local road laws.
“We’ll have to follow the laws of that state. In some cases we’ll have to keep a hand on the wheel and abide by the local law in those areas,” Absmeier said.
Delphi hopes the road ahead includes automakers putting its technology into future cars.
The car will drive for six to eight hours at a time. It was set to leave San Francisco on Sunday and should arrive in New York for the auto show, the first week of April.

Threats from Russia on Missiles sites

Russia Threatens to Strike NATO Missile Defense Sites

Russia’s most senior military officer said Thursday that Moscow would strike and destroy NATO missile defense sites in Eastern Europe before they came online if the U.S. pushes ahead with deployment.

“A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov said at an international missile defense conference in Moscow attended by senior U.S. and NATO officials.

The threat comes as talks about the missile defense system, which the U.S. and its allies insist is aimed at Iranian missiles, appear to have stalled.

“We have not been able to find mutually acceptable solutions at this point, and the situation is practically at a dead end,” Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said.

Ellen Tauscher, the U.S. special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, insisted the talks about NATO plans for a missile defense system using ground-based interceptor missiles stationed in Poland, Romania and Turkey were not stalemated.

But she acknowledged Wednesday that the recent elections in Russia and the upcoming elections in the U.S. make it “pretty clear that this is a year in which we’re probably not going to achieve any sort of a breakthrough.”

She reiterated that the U.S.-built system, still in development, is being designed to shoot down Iranian intermediate-range missiles aimed at Europe, not Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Russian officials insist that the system has the capability to shoot down their ICBMs, thus robbing their nuclear deterrent of its credibility and destabilizing the Cold War-era balance of mutually assured destruction.

Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon had any immediate comment on the Russian threat Thursday.

BP engineer Kurt Mix charged in oil spill

First criminal charges filed in BP oil spill

From Terry Frieden

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2010: First 100 days of BP oil disaster

Washington (CNN) — A former BP engineer has been charged with destroying 200-plus text messages about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including one concluding that the undersea gusher was far worse than reported at the time.

Kurt Mix faces two counts of intentionally destroying evidence requested by authorities, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday. The charges mark the first criminal case brought in conjunction with the 2010 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which spewed nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the sea.

Mix had been assigned to estimate the size of the spill, and one of the messages investigators recovered “includes real-time flow-rate analysis” during an effort to plug the damaged well. That data contradicted the company’s public statements about the ongoing disaster, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit outlining the charges against him.

The effort, called a “top kill,” involved plugging the ruptured deep-sea well by pumping heavy drilling fluid into it from the surface, nearly a mile above.

“Before Top Kill commenced, Mix and other engineers had concluded internally that Top Kill was unlikely to succeed if the flow rate was greater than 15,000 barrels of oil per day,” the Justice Department said in a statement announcing the charges.

On the first day of the operation, Mix sent a message back to his supervisor that read, “Too much flowrate — over 15,000 and too large an orifice,” an FBI affidavit outlining the charges states. That data indicated “that Top Kill was not working, contrary to BP’s public statements at that time,” the affidavit states.

When the operation began, the publicly announced estimate of the spill by BP and federal agencies was 5,000 barrels a day, though BP had acknowledged the amount was likely higher. The day after Mix’s message, the U.S. government raised its estimate of the spill amount to 12,000 barrels a day; two days later, BP announced that the “Top Kill” attempt had failed.

According to the affidavit, an early estimate of the blowout Mix produced ranged from 64,000 barrels a day to 138,000; another ranged from 1,000 to 146,000 per day. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ultimately concluded that about 59,200 barrels of liquid oil a day flowed from the well before it was capped, making it the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

In a statement issued Tuesday, BP said it was cooperating with Justice Department and other investigations into the spill, which lasted nearly three months. The company had no comment on the allegations against Mix but said it “had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence.”

Mix, of the Houston suburb of Katy, resigned from BP in early 2012, the affidavit states. He made his first appearance before a federal judge in Houston on Tuesday afternoon on the charges, which were filed in New Orleans.

Prosecutors said Mix deleted a string of more than 200 messages from his iPhone about October 4, 2010, after he had been told to collect electronic files related to the disaster and prepare to turn them over to a company working for the oil giant’s attorneys. He would face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count if convicted.

The Gulf Restoration Network, a New Orleans-based environmental group, said it was pleased to see criminal charges stemming from the spill.

“It is telling that the Department of Justice’s charges against Kurt Mix surround efforts to cover up the fact that BP’s public estimates of the oil flow rate were far lower than the actual flow rate,” the group said in a statement on the arrest. “Establishing accurate flow rates is an important step forward in ensuring that BP pays the highest possible price for every drop of oil that they discharged into the Gulf.”

An estimated 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of crude oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico after the April, 20, 2010 explosion that sank the drill rig Deepwater Horizon and killed 11 men aboard. The disaster damaged the region’s fishing and tourism industries, a temporary federal ban on deepwater drilling left oilworkers idled, and scientists are still studying the long-term effects of the disaster on the Gulf ecosystem.

BP announced last week that it had reached a settlement estimated at $7.8 billion with thousands of businesses and individuals who filed damage claims in the wake of the spill, and a federal criminal investigation of the disaster is ongoing.

In September, a government report on the spill found that BP, rig owner Transocean and well cement contractor Halliburton shared responsibility for the explosion, but BP was “ultimately responsible” for operations at the site.

BP and Halliburton sued each other in April 2011, each claiming the other was to blame for the deadly explosion and resulting leak. A federal judge in New Orleans ruled this year that Halliburton is not liable for the some of the compensatory damages sought by third parties, leaving BP on the hook for the majority of those claims, while a similar decision came down regarding Transocean.

Yahoo schedules 2000 employee lay-off

Yahoo cuts 2,000 jobs as radical reshaping begins

  • yahoo layoffs

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Yahoo said Wednesday that it will eliminate 2,000 employees, around 14% of its workforce, as new CEO Scott Thompson begins radically streamlining the company.

The long-rumored job cuts could be the first of several rounds, as Thompson pares Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) down to focus on what he views as the company’s core business lines.

Thompson, who joined Yahoo in January, plans to provide more information about his strategy during the company’s first-quarter earnings announcement, which is scheduled for April 17.

In a written statement, Thompson said the cuts “are an important next step toward a bold, new Yahoo — smaller, nimbler, more profitable and better equipped to innovate. Our goal is to get back to our core purpose — putting our users and advertisers first.”

Yahoo said its job cuts will save the company $375 million a year when they are completed. It expects to take a $125 million to $145 million charge this quarter for severance costs.

Thompson is aiming to do something his recent predecessors — including Carol Bartz, who was forced out in September — have repeatedly failed to do: articulate a vision of what Yahoo is.

The Internet’s first giant portal has retained a massive user base, but has lost its edge in nearly every field to newer, nimbler rivals. The company gave up on search in 2009, and it’s losing ground in display advertising to new entrants to the market such as Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) and Facebook.

Thompson’s busy 2012: Wednesday’s layoffs come three months to the day that Thompson took over at Yahoo — and his tenure has already been a busy one. In February, four longtime board members, including chairman Roy Bostock, announced they would not seek re-election.

Exactly one week after that, activist shareholder Daniel Loeb and his hedge fund Third Point launched a proxy fight. Third Point, which owns a 5.56% stake in Yahoo, is proposing four new Yahoo board members, including Loeb himself.

Mere weeks later, in March, Yahoo filed a lawsuit against Facebook. The high-profile suit alleges that Facebook infringed on 10 of Yahoo’s patents related to advertising, privacy, customization, messaging and social networking.

Facebook called the lawsuit “puzzling,” while outside critics decried the move as “pathetic” and “desperate.”

Still, considering that his predecessors failed at fixing Yahoo, Thompson clearly knows he has to make bold moves. Whether they’re enough for the long-promised but so far elusive Yahoo turnaround remains to be seen

Automobile manufacturers making a comeback

Strong car sales signal automakers’ comeback

By Chris Isidore

Car sales jumped in March, led by a 34% gain at Chrysler Group.Car sales jumped in March, led by a 34% gain at Chrysler Group.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The Big Three U.S. automakers all reported strong March sales, as buyers flocked to dealerships in numbers not seen in years to buy everything from fuel-efficient small cars to large pickups.

When other automakers report March sales later Tuesday, it is expected to cap the best quarter for auto sales in the United States since early 2008, before the combination of a gas price spike and the meltdown in financial markets later that year devastated sales and nearly led to the end of the U.S. auto industry.

Overall industry wide sales are expected to come in at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate above 14 million vehicles for the month as it did in both January and February. The only month to reach that level from mid-2008 through the end of last year was in August 2009, when sales spiked due to the “Cash for Clunkers” program.

The strong start to the year has led some analysts to raise their sales targets to nearly 15 million vehicles for 2012, up from 12.8 million last year. That’s a much faster rebound to that benchmark than analysts anticipated even as recently as last year.

Even those making more cautious forecasts, such as full-year sales of 14.5 million, have raised their estimates substantially in recent weeks.

The strong sales came even as gas prices rose steadily throughout February and March, with a gallon of gas at nearly $4 by the end of last month, a record high for the time of year.

Typically overall auto sales are hurt by gas price spikes, as the drop in demand for less fuel-efficient models outweighs any gains in high-mileage vehicles. But that has not been the case with the current run-up in gas prices.

“The combination of credit availability, an improving economy, pent-up demand and even high fuel prices encouraging people to acquire newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles are all helping to drive industry sales,” said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler Group, which includes the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Fiat brands.

Jesse Toprak, an analyst with sales tracker TrueCar, said that greater availability of credit is one of the quiet factors driving the strong sales.

But he said one other key factor is the rally in the stock market. Even if buyers aren’t cashing out stock to sell cars, the recent rally in markets has given buyers a “green light” to go make a big ticket purchase once again after years of putting off purchases.

Part of the strong sales for the Detroit automakers came from the fact that they have much stronger offerings in the small car segment of the market than they previously did.

“The economic recovery and a deep bench of fuel-efficient cars and crossovers have been driving our sales for more than a year, but the combined impact has never been stronger than it was in March,” said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. sales operations for GM.

8 great fuel-efficient cars

GM (GM, Fortune 500) sold more than 100,000 cars which got 30 miles per gallon or better in the United States for the first time in company history. Overall, sales rose 14.2% in March from year-earlier levels.

“Since the last time fuel prices spiked, both the economy and GM’s product portfolio are undeniably stronger,” said Johnson.

Chrysler reported its best month in four years, selling 163,381 cars and trucks in the month, up 34% from a year earlier, and its best results since March 2008. Sales were roughly in line with analyst forecasts for the company.

Chrysler, which four years ago had no models that got 30 miles per gallon or more on the highway, now has six models that top that fuel -efficiency benchmark. Those six models accounted for 29% of its March sales. And that’s before what is expected to be its hottest-selling fuel-efficient model, the Dodge Dart, reaches dealers in June.

But customers also flocked to less efficient models such as the Ram pick-up truck, the Grand Cherokee SUV and the Town & Country minivan.

Ford (F, Fortune 500) reported a much more modest 5% gain in sales, but it was enough to give the company its best March sales total since 2007.

Detroit ready for a fuel-efficient future

Ford’s gains could be attributed to a single model — the compact Focus, which had sales soar 67% over year-earlier levels. The rest of Ford’s portfolio had sales little changed from a year ago.

But Ford’s comparisons were to a very strong year-earlier period, when its sales actually led overall U.S. sales for the first time in nearly 13 years

Energy giant Total springs a gas leak off North Sea

Gas Leak caused by off shore drilling giant

By the CNN Wire Staff

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Strong winds due at oil platform

London (CNN) — Energy giant Total has located the source of a gas leak on an offshore oil platform in the North Sea, the company told CNN on Thursday. The leak is not underwater, but is on the deck level of the well head platform, Total said.

The Elgin platform sprang a leak on Sunday, forcing the evacuation of the rig.

Experts are now working to decide whether they can wait for the gas to stop leaking on its own, or whether the company must drill a relief well or fill it with mud in a “kill operation,” Total said.

Nearly 240 workers were taken off the rig as the problem developed Sunday, Total said earlier in the week.

The leak seems to have started as workers were sealing the well in the North Sea, about 150 miles (240 km) east of the Scottish city of Aberdeen.

“Ironically, it sounds as if, just like with the Deepwater Horizon, they were closing off a well and somewhere along the line something went wrong,” oceanographer Simon Boxall said, referring to the major BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

 The Elgin leak has echoes of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, but there are significant differences. The Elgin is in significantly shallower water, which could make problems easier to fix, but it is leaking gas, rather than oil. Gas catches fire much more easily.

“This is nothing on the scale of the Gulf spill two years ago,” Boxall said. “This is a relatively light spill. The gas itself is dispersing quite rapidly.”

“The hope is that there is so little gas pressure in there that it will just blow itself out,” he said of the Elgin spill.

Total’s share price was down about 2% in trading in France on Thursday afternoon.

The French company’s share price fell 7% Tuesday on news of the leak, but market analyst firm Jeffries International said Wednesday that it thought the market had overreacted.

A union representing workers on the rig warned Wednesday that there was an “urgent need” to stop the leak.

“If the gas cloud somehow finds an ignition source, we could be looking at complete destruction,” said Jake Molloy, an official with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.

“This is an unprecedented situation and we really are in the realms of the unknown,” Molloy said.

But oceanographer Boxall said the risk of explosion may not be as high as initially feared.

“Initially the risk of explosion was seen as being very high. There were reports coming through of a large gas cloud enveloping the whole rig,” he told CNN.

But the fact that there has been no blast when the flare on the gas rig is still burning “obviously contradicts the idea that there was a very high risk of explosion,” he said.

“Perhaps the quantity of gas is not that great as first thought,” he said.

For the moment, the wind seems to be blowing the gas cloud away from the flare on the Elgin rig.

Total confirmed there was a “sheen on the water in the vicinity of the platform,” but said Tuesday there was no indication of environmental damage. There have been no injuries, the company said.

Shell partially evacuated two of its nearby platforms, Shearwater and Hans Deul, as a “purely precautionary” measure, it said Wednesday.

The North Sea was the scene of the world’s worst offshore rig disaster, the Piper Alpha explosion, which killed 167 people in 1988.