Brazil’s environmental agency recently refused to give oil company Petrobras permission to search for oil under the ocean near the mouth of the Amazon River.
Petrobras is Brazil’s state-run oil company.
The oil company wanted to start a drilling project near the northern coast of Brazil, in an area known as the Tapajos Basin. Activists describe the area as “unique” and say it contains plants and coral reefs that are sensitive to chemicals. A number of environmental organizations pushed the agency to reject Petrobras’ application.
When the environmental agency’s leader, Rodrigo Agostinho announced his decision last week, he said the company did not fix some “technical inconsistencies” in its proposal.
The head of Petrobras is Jean Paul Prates. He said the company has never had an oil leak during offshore projects. His word, however, was not enough to persuade the agency of the project’s safety.
Petrobras noted that it would appeal the decision. The oil company believes exploring the northern coast is important for the nation’s economy. Brazil’s oil production, Petrobras said, is expected to reach its highest level soon and then start to drop off. The company planned to invest half of its $6 billion exploration budget for the next five years in the area.
Agostinho called the area “a new exploratory frontier with high… vulnerability” in his announcement.
Groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace were among the organizations asking the agency to reject Petrobras’ request.
Another group was Health and Happiness, a Brazilian nonprofit led by Caetano Scannavino. He was pleased with the decision and said it was an example of “prioritizing science in the service of the collective.”
He went on to say any mistake in the area would hurt the environment. If the agency had permitted drilling, he said, it would be going against the Brazilian government’s “promise of a decarbonized future.”
The Climate Observatory is a network of environmental nonprofit groups. It said the agency is protecting an “unknown ecosystem and maintains the coherence of the Lula government.”
Brazil’s president is Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He had been president from 2003 to 2010 and permitted offshore drilling during that term. The large oil projects helped pay for improvements in Brazilian health, education and welfare programs. Some members of Lula’s Workers’ Party political group consider oil money as a way to increase social spending.
Lula now says he supports the environment. His promises about protecting the Amazon rain forest helped him win last year’s election over former President Jair Bolsonaro.
Experts and activists say Lula’s reputation would be hurt if his government permitted the offshore drilling project.
Suely Araujo is a former head of Brazil’s environment agency and now works with the Climate Observatory. Araujo said the decision to block the drilling project means Brazil should also start to end its dependence on fossil fuels, like oil and gas.
However, not everyone from the area close to the drilling site was pleased with the decision. Randolfe Rodrigues is a senator from Amapa State, the state that stood to gain the most if Petrobras found oil.
He said the restriction on oil exploration will hurt the development of Amapa. He said he would put a group together to fight the decision.
Petrobras said its proposal did not violate any requirements set forth by the government, and its exploration area was far away from the river. The oil company said it would continue to look for new drilling areas, but also work to find a way to drill in the area it first targeted.
There are other projects for the environment agency to consider. They include the repair of a highway through the rain forest, construction of a major railway for transporting grain and the renewal of a hydroelectric dam’s operating permit.
I’m Dan Friedell.