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18

Brazil Petrobras reports new offshore oil spill

An offshore oil rig dumped a small oil slick into the ocean...

An offshore oil rig dumped a small oil slick into the ocean off the Rio coast on Thursday, less than a month after explosions sank a nearby platform, Brazil's state oil giant Petrobras said.

An accident during a testing operation early on Thursday morning caused a production pipeline to spew 6,800 gallons (26,000 liters/160 barrels) of crude into the sea and forced the evacuation of most of the 143 workers aboard.

They were transferred for precautionary reasons to neighboring platforms, while 37 workers from the fire and emergency brigades remained aboard the P-7 rig. No explosion, fire or injuries were reported.

"The well is completely sealed and under control and we are going to take the steps to restart production," Irani Varella, Petrobras's manager of security and environment, told reporters in the afternoon.

The spill was twice as big as initial estimates, but still much smaller than the up to 316,000 gallons (1.2 million liters/7,500 barrels) of diesel that leaked last month when the Petrobras's biggest offshore platform sank.

"Luckily, this is not a situation involving big environmental damage," said Carlos Henrique Mendes, a regional director for Brazil's state environmental institute Ibama. "The spill is small and it shouldn't reach the shore at all."

Boats and absorption barriers had contained the spill which was expected to be cleaned up by Saturday.

Petrobras said the platform should resume production within 48 hours. The rig, located 75 miles (120 km) from the coast of Rio de Janeiro state in the Bicudo field in the Campos Basin, produces 15,000 barrels per day (bpd), a small fraction of the company's total of 1.2 million bpd.

The accident occurred when Petrobras tried to shift production into shallower waters and oil started to spurt out of a connection in the pipes, Petrobras said. The company denied there had been a "blowout" or uncontrolled gush of oil.

While small, the spill is just the latest in a string of embarrassing accidents for Petrobras over the last couple of years. Petrobras shares closed down 2.3 percent at 49.50 reais on Thursday, while the broad Bovespa index at the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange rose one percent.

On March 15, three explosions on the Petrobras P-36 platform killed 11 workers and sent it listing into the sea. The 40-storey rig -- the world's largest offshore platform -- sank five days later after a failed rescue effort.

The cause of the explosions has not yet been determined, but a report on the accident is due to be published on April 20.

A huge diesel slick appeared on the surface when the platform sank to bottom of the ocean floor, almost a mile (1.6 km) down and Petrobras said up to 316,000 gallons (1.2 million liters) of diesel, the total amount aboard, had spilled.

Separately, a tanker dumped 53 gallons (200 liters) of diesel into Brazil's southern port of Paranagua when it pulled away from the dock while it was still refueling.

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