Brazil: Maximum Fine After Silence on Chevron's Oil Spill

On 7 November, the Frade field oil platform, operated by the American drilling company Chevron-Texaco, began leaking crude oil. It is located in Bacia de Campos, 350km North from Rio de Janeiro. Last Monday, 21 November, Chevron was fined the maximum amount allowed by IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), $R50 million (approximately $28 million USD).

Though the oil spill is now believed to have been brought under control, further explanations from Chevron are expected in the next few days. Meanwhile, what began as scarce coverage by mainstream media has lead many bloggers to criticize the lack of journalistic depth on the intricacies of the environmental disaster.

Chevron's oil spill in Bacia de Campos, November 18, 2011. Photo by Rogério Santana, Government of Rio, for release

Chevron's oil spill in Bacia de Campos, November 18, 2011. Photo by Rogério Santana, Government of Rio, for release

“Silence is criminal”

Journalist Fernando Brito, on the blog of the federal deputy Brizola Neto Tijolaço [pt], decided to “swim against the media tide” that he had considered to be mere re-publication of corporate press releases. He embarked on a thorough and tireless work of investigative journalism trying to shine a light on the case, with 25 posts with denouncements in just two weeks. What he saw as signs that something was wrong with the mainstream coverage was later explained in an interview [pt] for the blog Vi O mundo:

Primeira: a Chevron-Texaco  demorou para admitir o problema e, quando o fez, foi por uma nota marota, dizendo que havia sido detectado vazamento “entre o campo de Frade e o de Roncador – que é operado pela Petrobras –  quando, na verdade, ele se deu bem próximo de uma de suas plataformas de perfuração, a Sedco706 (…).

Segunda: a história de que falha geológica seria a causa.  É improvável que falhas geológicas capazes de provocar um derramamento no mar não tivessem sido detectadas nos estudos sísmicos que precedem a perfuração.

Terceira: mesmo depois de a presidenta Dilma Rousseff ter determinado em 11 de novembro a investigação rigorosa do caso, a nossa imprensa (…) continuou a dar quase nenhuma importância ao caso da Chevron-Texaco, uma multinacional com boas relações com o senhor José Serra.

First, Chevron-Texaco was slow to admit the problem and when it did, it was with a naughty note, saying that a leakage had been detected “between the Frade field and Roncador – which is operated by Petrobras – when, in fact, it happened very close to one of its drilling rigs, the Sedco706 (…).

Second, the story that a geological fault could be the cause. It is unlikely that faults capable of causing a spill at sea had not been detected in seismic surveys prior to drilling.

Third, even after the President Rousseff determined on 11 November a rigorous investigation of the case, our press (…) continued to give little or no importance to the case of Chevron-Texaco, a multinational company with good relations with Mr. José Serra. [Governor and Mayor of Sao Paulo, former Brazilian Presidency candidate ].

Giving further background to the third point above, economist Pedro Migão, from the blog Ouro de Tolo, recalls a post he wrote last year on “revelations by Wikileaks“:

sobre o lobby que as petrolíferas americanas estavam fazendo junto a setores da imprensa e a políticos do PSDB para terem o controle do pré sal – que é a última fronteira petrolífera mundial.

about the lobbying of the media and politicians from the PSDB [Social Democracy Party] by American oil companies to take control of the pre-salt [layer which holds significant oil resources] – which is the world's last oil frontier.

As public debate [pt] about the environmental dangers of offshore oil drilling had been sparked, Greenpeace Brazil started spreading the hashtag #VazaChevron (Spill Chevron, a play with words meaning Go Away Chevron), and took the opportunity to promote a petition [pt] against oil exploitation by Chevron planned for the Abrolhos region, a protected area in the state of Bahia.

Greenpeace Brazil's action urges transparency by Chevron on the causes and effects of the spill

Valéria Müller (@valeria47), tweeting from Porto Alegre, said [pt]:

Quando se tem dinheiro, dá até pra derramar petróleo no mar que não vira notícia. Taí a Chevron-Texaco pra provar isso. #VazaChevron

When you have money, you can even spill oil in the sea but it won't become news #VazaChevron

On Twitter, many have also commented on the amount of the fine, which is just about “half a day's profit” for Chevron, such as Mirinho Braga (@mirinhobraga), Mayor of Buzios, who asks:

A Chevron polui nosso mar…o IBAMA multa em milhoes a empresa. Os pescadores q são prejudicados recebem o que?

Chevron pollutes our sea… IBAMA fines the company millions. The fishermen who are harmed receive what?
Chevron's logo with an oil spill. Shared on the blog Tijolaço.

Chevron's logo with an oil spill. Shared on the blog Tijolaço.

Given Chevron's “track record of fraud related to an even larger oil disaster in neighboring Ecuador”, solidarity and awareness have come from activists in that country, where rainforests have also been contaminated by the company's spills, as Global Voices reported earlier this year.

On Wednesday, November 23, Chevron is expected to give further explanations about the disaster in a public hearing of the Environmental Committee of the Senate, along with Minister of Environment Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Mines and Energy Edison Lobao and representatives of the National Petroleum Agency (ANP) and IBAMA.

At the time this article was published, Fernando Brito's last post concerning Chevron's “bet on taking risks”, leaves a question in the air:

Um carro não bate por estar em  velocidade imprudente, mas esta é o contexto que facilita a ocorrência do acidente.

No caso do autmóvel, porém, isso é motivo para ter a habilitação cassada. A Chevron-Texaco vai perder a carteira?

A car does not hit to be at reckless speed, but this is the context that facilitates the accident.

Concerning driving, however, this is a reason to have one's license revoked.  Will Chevron-Texaco lose its license?

João Miguel Lima, Raphael Tsavkko and Thiana Biondo have collaborated on the research for this post.


  • Amanda

    If it was that Petrobras had done caused a major oil spill certainly would hear many insults and criticisms of our “third world country” but I’m glad we’re doing this to Americans who come to our country, lie, and try to omit the move to back as if we were a bunch of idiots. I hope that this “accident” make them learn the lesson and especially to realize that Brazil is not a country of debauchery and we have to be respected as all other nations. Nobody will make us a fool and make that clear to these American idiots who think they can step on Brazilian soil and do whatever they want. That Chevron is banned and never enter our country!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Pergunto: Devido às correntes marítimas essa poluição da Chevron nas águas do Brasil não irá, necessariamente, espalhar pelas águas de todo nosso Planeta ?

    Muito obrigado por suas informações técnicas.

    Renato Guimarães Jr., Comitê de Ética na Pesquisa Médica da UNICAMP.

  • […] on imported oil products contributed to the leak at the Chevron rig last year, as Global Voices reported in December […]

  • […] إلى تسرب وتلاعب شركة شيفرون العام الماضي، كما نشرت الأصوات العالمية في ديسمبر/كانون الاول […]

  • […] its Frade oil field in the Campos Basin. Eduardo Santos de Oliviera filed the first lawsuit after a 2,400 barrel oil spill [Global Voices backgrounder] polluted the Campos Basin last November. A month earlier the same […]

  • […] on imported oil products contributed to the leak at the Chevron rig last year, as Global Voices reported in December […]

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