The firm says a flame on the rig off the east coast of Scotland has to remain burning to prevent excess gas pressure from building up.
According to Total's spokesman Pierre-Emmanuel Saulnier the material being thrown into the atmosphere is not dagerous or excessive: "it's around 30 cubic metres. That's about the size of half an articulated lorry. It's too much of course, but it's not going to have a significant impact on the environment."
Total is said to be considering drilling a relief well that would allow the flow of gas to be shut off, or blocking the well with heavy mud. Either way, some experts say an "explosion is waiting to happen."
Environmentalist, Benoit Hartman, from France Nature said: "Hydrocarbons are becoming more and more difficult to find as they're drying up. So we're having to look for non-conventional hydrocarbons which are difficult to extract and normally aren't profitable. But now they're becoming so because fuel prices are increasing. This means we can expect more accidents like this."
The Scottish government has called for more information from Total as memories are still raw in the North Sea industry of the Piper Alpha platform fire 24 years ago, when 167 people were killed in the world's deadliest offshore oil disaster.