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Mysterious Gulf oil sheen: Where did it come from?

Scientists can't yet determine where the 10-mile stretch of oil sheen found Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico originated, but they have ways of finding out. Shell oil is investigating.

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Federal officials are instructing oil giant Royal Dutch Shell to conduct underwater monitoring to assess the origin of a 10-mile stretch of oil sheen that is located near two of its platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The US Coast Guard spotted the sheen Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement sent a helicopter to confirm the sheen, located about 130 miles southeast of New Orleans.

Where the sheen originated, its density, and composition are still not known. BSEE instructed Shell to send remote-operated vehicles to investigate nearby wells that Shell does not own but are permanently plugged, as well as surrounding areas in the Gulf that are known to produce natural seeps.

Eileen Angelico, chief of BSEE’s public affairs office, says results from those operations will be “expected in hours and not days.”

Shell released a statement Thursday that said it is “confident at this time that the sheen did not originate from” its two platforms, named Mars and Ursa, that collectively produce about 60,000 barrels of oil a day. It is not yet known if the company conducted chemical tests of the oil sheen to make that determination.

The company also confirmed it has “no well control issues associated” with drilling operations in the area. Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the Mars platform in September 2005; it resumed operations in 2006.

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