By Oleg Vukmanovic
ABERDEEN (Reuters) - Total plans to send eight experts to its leaking oil and gas platform on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning to assess the steps needed to stop a large and potentially explosive gas leak, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
All helicopter crews and accompanying rig crews have been grounded outbound due to adverse weather offshore, preventing French energy company Total from beginning its relief efforts on the platform.
"The team of engineers will be on a mission to assess conditions," Total's UK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications Manager Andrew Hogg told Reuters in Aberdeen.
Hogg said that part of the mission would be to find out whether a so-called "well kill" was feasible through pumping mud into the well or whether other measures would be necessary.
Another, but much more expensive, option would be to dig a relief well to the source of the gas at 4,000 meters depth.
Experts have said that this option could take up to six months to complete and could cost the companies billions of dollars.
The leak, which began on Sunday, is spewing an estimated 200,000 cubic meters of natural gas into the air per day, forming a highly explosive gas cloud around the platform.
It began after pressure rose in a well that had earlier been capped.
Hogg said that the team of eight engineers would consist of a mix of Total staff and U.S. specialist company Wild Well Control.
Firefighters and engineers from the Houston-based company are experts at disasters such as oil rig explosions and have been dubbed "Hellfighters" by Hollywood.
(Writing by Henning Gloystein in London; editing by Keiron Henderson)