A matter of taste
Were it not for the absolute seriousness of the situation, the idea of highly trained experts being paid to tuck into a plate of North Sea fish to test for potential damage from a gas leak may have seemed more comic.
A specially trained sensory team at Marine Scotland’s headquarters in Aberdeen had to smell and taste fish from the waters near Total’s Elgin Franklin platform to ensure the leaking gas had not permeated the living things nearby.
The same team was called in after a spill on Shell’s Gannet Alpha platform in August last year.
On both occasions the tasters said that the fish was untainted.
Samples of cod, haddock, whiting, plaice, lemon sole, herring and mackerel were collected by Marine Research Vessel Alba Na Mara from a two-mile exclusion zone surrounding the platform.
After being collected, the fish were cooked and presented to the specialists who then checked the smell and the taste, before spitting it into a cup.
It should be stressed that this is not the only way the Scottish Government agency assesses any potential damage to marine life. Chemical tests are also carried out on fish collected from around the platform and samples of both seawater and sediment are also examined, which showed no direct contamination from the leak.
Although the Scottish Government has a view on all aspects of the latest leak, marine life is one of the few it has control over under powers devolved from Westminster.
MP Pete Wishart wondered aloud on Twitter about the job of a Marine Scotland taster, saying “It’s great the fish are untainted. But how do you taste a hydrocarbon? What a job.”
But as with any event associated with the offshore industry it does not take much for thoughts to turn to events like the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster where 167 people died in a platform fire, and realise that the safety of those offshore is of paramount importance.
All 238 people who were on the Elgin Franklin and the Rowan Viking drilling rig were evacuated – although as Total still works to stem the leak, claims have emerged in the Press and Journal about exactly when bosses knew about the leak, with an unnamed worker saying they knew about the gas escape eight hours before the evacuation was launched.
Total, however, has said it offered all possible support and the evacuation was “textbook”.