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By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A public investigation in underway after an incident at a deepwater oil field run by Brazilian oil giant Petrobras in the Santos Basin, some 250km (155 miles) to the north of São Paulo state, led to some 160 barrels of crude oil being released into the Atlantic Ocean.

Petrobras oil spill at the Carioca Nordeste oil field, Brazil News
The oil spill at the Carioca Nordeste oil field, operated by Petrobras, is said to be under control, photo released by Brazilian Navy.

The leak was detected at the Carioca Nordeste field on Tuesday morning, and the company said clean-up efforts, including skimming equipment, were ongoing throughout Wednesday to minimize any impact to the environment.

The well was shut down automatically and remains closed and sealed. The oil is said to be spreading to the south-west and dissipating, meaning the slick would unlikely come ashore.

Petrobras president, José Sergio Gabrielli, downplayed the spill, saying “no leak” had occurred, but it was due to “a rupturing of the pipe connecting the well to the surface” although it would “take some time” to establish exactly why this had happened.”

The incident is said to be the first affecting the cluster of oil fields carrying out ultra-deepwater operations, known as Pre-Salt after the geological layer the oil is extracted from.

However, Mr. Gabrielli dismissed any connection with the Pre-Salt operations, instead drawing attention to how effectively the containment and prevention systems had worked.

It is the third time in three months that Brazil has experienced oil spills as a result of operations off the country’s southeast coastline. In November 2011, a oil well operated by Chevron caused an oil slick and led to record fines for the U.S. oil giant.

In December, Japanese company Modec, which provides services to the oil industry, was also fined R$16.6 million for an oil spill in Ilha Grande Bay along the southern coast of the state of Rio de Janiero.

Read more (in Portuguese).

* The Rio Times Daily Update is a new feature we are offering to help keep you up-to-date with major news as it happens.

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