Total said evidence that the flare had gone out came from surveillance flights and from vessels close to the exclusion zone.
The company said: “Total can this morning confirm that the flare on the Elgin platform has extinguished itself.
“We received the first indication that the flare may be out at 12.07 yesterday from our first surveillance flight of the day. The news was then reaffirmed at 16.36 following our second flight of the day.
“We received what we consider final confirmation at 08.20 this morning, when our sea vessels on location reported no further flare activity through the night.”
The company has said there was minimal risk from the flare, which was burning about 150 metres above sea level.
About 200,000 cubic metres of gas has been escaping every day from the Elgin platform, about 150 miles off the coast of Aberdeen, Philippe Guys, Total UK managing director, said.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, he said there has been “little change” in the past five days.
Proposals to stop the leak include “killing” the well with mud and drilling relief wells which could take as long as six months.
Two drilling rigs have stopped work on other wells in the area.
Guys added: “The question has been asked if there could be similar problems with other wells on Elgin. What I can tell you is that when the platform was evacuated, all other wells were left in a safe condition.”
Spotter planes have been making three flights a day over the rig.
The gas is coming from a rock formation below the sea, underneath the Elgin platform. It is then escaping into the air from a leak on the platform at the top of the well, about 25 metres above sea level.
A new study of dolphins living close to the site of North America’s worst ever oil spill – the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago – has established serious health problems afflicting the marine mammals.
The report, commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], found that many of the 32 dolphins studied were underweight, anaemic and suffering from lung and liver disease, while nearly half had low levels of a hormone that helps the mammals deal with stress as well as regulating their metabolism and immune systems.
More than 200m gallons of crude oil flowed from the well after a series of explosions on 20 April 2010, which killed 11 workers. The spill contaminated the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline in what President Barack Obama called America’s worst environmental disaster.
The research follows the publication of several scientific studies into insect populations on the nearby Gulf coastline and into the health of deepwater coral populations, which all suggest that the environmental impact of the five-month long spill may have been far worse than previously appreciated.
Another study confirmed that zooplankton – the microscopic organisms at the bottom of the ocean food chain – had also been contaminated with oil. Indeed, photographs issued last month of wetland coastal areas show continued contamination, with some areas still devoid of vegetation.
The study of the dolphins in Barataria Bay, off the coast of Louisiana, followed two years in which the number of dead dolphins found stranded on the coast close to the spill had dramatically increased. Although all but one of the 32 dolphins were still alive when the study ended, lead researcher Lori Schwacke said survival prospects for many were grim, adding that the hormone deficiency – while not definitively linked to the oil spill – was “consistent with oil exposure to other mammals”.
Schwacke told a Colorado based-publication last week: “This was truly an unprecedented event – there was little existing data that would indicate what effects might be seen specifically in dolphins – or other cetaceans – exposed to oil for a prolonged period of time.”
The NOAA study has been reported at the same time as two other studies suggesting that the long-term environmental effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill may have been far more profound than previously thought.
A study of deep ocean corals seven miles from the spill source jointly funded by the NOAA and BP has found dead and dying corals coated “in brown gunk”. Deepwater corals are not usually affected in oil spills, but the depth and temperatures involved in the spill appear to have been responsible for creating plumes of oil particles deep under the ocean surface, which are blamed for the unprecedented damage.
Charles Fisher, one of the scientists who jointly described the impact as unprecedented, said he believed the colony had been contaminated by a plume from the ruptured well which would have affected other organisms. “The corals are long-living and don’t move. That is why we were able to identify the damage but you would have expected it to have had an impact on other larger animals that were exposed to it.”
Chemical analysis of oil found on the dying coral showed that it came from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
The latest surveys of the damage to the marine environment come amid continued legal wrangling between the US and BP over the bill for the clean-up. BP said the US government was withholding evidence that would show the oil spill from the well in the Gulf of Mexico was smaller than claimed. Last week BP, which has set aside $37bn (£23bn) to pay for costs associated with the disaster, went to court in Louisiana to demand access to thousands of documents that it says the Obama administration is suppressing.
The US government is still pursuing a case against BP despite a deal the company reached at the beginning of March with the largest group of private claimants. That $7.8bn deal, however, does not address “significant damages” to the environment after the spill for which BP has not admitted liability. And it has not only been the immediate marine environment that has been affected. A study of insect populations in the coastal marshes affected by the catastrophe has also identified significant impact.
Linda Hooper-Bui of Louisiana State University found that some kinds of insect and spider were far less numerous than before. “Every single time we go out there, the Pollyanna part of me thinks, ‘Now we’re going to measure recovery’,” she said. “Then I get out there and say: ‘Whaaat?’”
She had expected that one group of arthropods might be hit hard while others recovered, but her work, still incomplete, shows a large downturn among many kinds. “We never thought it would be this big, this widespread,” she said.
For its part BP has claimed in a recent statement that it has worked hard to fulfil its responsibility to clean up after the spill. “From the beginning, BP stepped up to meet our obligations to the communities in the Gulf Coast region, and we’ve worked hard to deliver on that commitment for nearly two years,” BP chief executive Bob Dudley declared recently.
The levy to subsidise rates relief for small businesses has been criticised by Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King, among others, amid arguments that it unfairly targets the supermarket sector and could limit investment and cost jobs.
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, which represents large retailers, has said the levy is unfair and poses a risk to future investment. Ikea has said it could put hundreds of jobs at risk.
But the finance minister at Stormont, Sammy Wilson, said it represents a minuscule proportion of the giant retailers’ profits.
The charge will affect 76 large shops and raise £5m to fund a rates cut for small shops.
The levy will be made at a rate of 15%, not 20% as originally planned.
The tax is introduced on 1 April.
PM says it will take time for fuel supplies to get back to normal after petrol stations across the country ran dry. Cameron says everything is being done to help Diane Hill, who got critically burned when decanting fuel in her kitchen. The Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, had advised people to store petrol in jerry cans as a precaution
I meet Mustafa and Kamal on Avenue Bourguiba, where they protested in January 2011 to get rid of the dictator who ruled their country with an iron-fist for 23 years. Tunisia has changed a lot since then – and celebrated its 56th independence day last week as a free nation. Both men said they will be out again to consolidate the gains of the revolution. “We couldn’t have [talked like this] before, no way,” says Mustafa, a 25-year-old originally from Tabarka in the north of Tunisia. “The only thing I could have told you is how great Ben Ali is, what a good man he is.”
But how independent is free Tunisia from the grips of its former colonial master and its allies? A demonstration last week by a group of fringe fundamentalists calling for sharia law has got some secular Tunisians in a funk again, as well as worrying the French, who are opposed to Ennahda. An opposition politician told me there are even rumours of a French-supported coup. It is clear that the next stage of western connivance in the subjugation of the Tunisian people is the widespread media and political fear over the democratically elected Ennahda party, which is Islamist. But despite constant derision by the western media, Ennahda revealed on Monday that they would not make sharia, or Islamic law, the main source of legislation for the new constitution. Wouldn’t it be better to judge them on their actions rather than conspiracies about their intentions? “We realise we have a historic responsibility to get this right, we are genuinely inclusive,” Said Ferjani, who sits on the Ennahda politburo, told me.
The course from actively arming a kleptocratic dictator to pushing for the Tunisians to support “western values” is familiar. As Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth: “As soon as the native begins to pull on his moorings, and to cause anxiety to the settler, he is handed over to well-meaning souls who … point out to him the specificity and wealth of western values.”
Initially, when people were getting shot by snipers on the streets of Tunis, Hillary Clinton, said the US “didn’t want to take sides” and was worried about the “unrest and instability”. Sarkozy’s administration even offered to send police advisers to Ben Ali to quell the uprising. In the end, over 200 perished. Since the revolution has won out, Clinton and Sarkozy have moved on to praising “progress” in the country while also expressing apparent concern that Ennahda don’t impose Iranian-style dictatorship on the Tunisian people (the US or French didn’t care when it was Pinochet-style dictatorship).
But the fear of Ennahda is misplaced, and based on western desires to remain in firm control. There are plenty of clear differences in Tunisia to 1979 when the Iranian revolution overthrew another western-backed torturing tyrant, the Shah. First, Ennahda have assembled a coalition including secular socialists and social democrats to form their government. The president Moncef Marzouki is a secular human-rights activist who spent decades in the wilderness fighting the US-backed atrocities being committed against dissidents in Tunisia.
The second point is that Tunisian civil society is engaged with the process and will only grow. One of the retrograde patterns you see in a Middle East speckled with US-backed dictatorships is that Islamism is often the only avenue to express dislike of the current state of affairs. The space for secular left movements has been completely crushed since the pan-Arabism of Nasser in Egypt worried the US enough to extinguish the left across the region. Clearly what scares the west more than any Islamist, then, is a secular revolutionary left opposed to the neoliberal order we set up over the past 40 years. That would really hurt the bottom line.
Islamists themselves have often been quite welcoming to the model of the Bretton Woods institutions and with the neoliberal order trying to impose itself on Tunisia, it will be near-impossible for the ruling parties to try something else (even if they want to). Ennahda at the moment has no discernible economic programme, and talked to me mainly about how much it wanted to attract foreign investment, rather than launching on the massive public works initiative that the country really needs. So far, Tunisia has followed US and Bretton Woods dictates to the book, privatising many of its state-owned assets and eviscerating public institutions and subsidies for fuel and food. Many actually compare Ennahda to the Justice and Development party (AKP) in Turkey, and it is no secret that the AKP has been a dream for business and international capital.
In its time in power, the AKP privatised a raft of public assets including Tekel, the state-owned tobacco and alcohol company, which it agreed to sell off as part of the “structural adjustments” attached to a $16bn loan agreement with the IMF. Before Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, started acting like the new sultan, the business press was in raptures about the AKP. This is why I worry for Tunisia – not because of Islamists, but because of neoliberals. With the period of dictatorship over, the economy in Tunisia is now the big issue – with high unemployment everyone here talks jobs. Bretton Woods dictates have proven a disaster around the world as a development model. Ennahda should look elsewhere, for its own survival.
• Follow Comment is free on Twitter @commentisfree