Shell says oil slick is not coming from its Gulf operations

GULF OF MEXICO — Royal Dutch Shell says it is confident a 10-mile oil sheen spotted in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast did not originate from its operations in the area.

In a statement today, the company says it found no sign of leaks and ruled out any well-control issues associated with its operations. The sheen was spotted late yesterday.

A Coast Guard helicopter with a pollution officer on board was heading out today to the site, about 130 miles southeast of New Orleans, in an effort to determine the source of the oil.

Shell estimates the sheen at six barrels of oil, or about 252 gallons. The company sent a response ship to skim the area as a precaution.

The company has two production platforms in the area, called Mars and Ursa.

Shares in Royal Dutch Shell PLC fell in European trading early today after the sheen was reported. After New York trading opened, Shell’s U.S. shares were up 32 cents at $68.07.

Early reports could not determine whether oil was continuing to flow at the site near the Shell platforms.

The Mars and Ursa fields are producing oil and natural gas from huge tension-leg production platforms. The Mars platform is in 2,900 feet of water while Ursa is in 4,000 feet of water.

Shell operates six major offshore facilities, 13 crewed platforms and numerous subsea systems in the Gulf.

The sheen was reported in an area about 50 miles from the site of BP’s Macondo well, which blew out in April 2010 and created the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. The now-plugged Macondo well is in about 5,000 feet of water.

Sheens spread quickly as oil breaks down and a small amount can cover a large area. Earlier this week, a tanker in the Mississippi River south of New Orleans spilled an estimated 50 gallons of oil. The sheen from the discharge extended almost 30 miles downriver.

Other possible sources, aside from oilfield equipment, could include natural seepage from the Gulf bottom and fuel discharged by passing ships headed into or out of the Mississippi River.

In the mean time, a federal agency says a remote underwater vehicle is surveying plugged undersea oil wells and looking for natural seepage as authorities seek the source of a 10-mile oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says it has instructed operators of pipelines in the area to survey their lines.

The federal agency said it directed Shell to conduct a seafloor assessment using a robot vehicle. Natural seepage is known to occur in the area.

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