Petrobrás Logs Third Oil Spill in 2012

By Laura Madden, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On the same day as the new Petrobrás CEO, Maria das Graças Foster, was sworn in, the company reported a leak off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state, in the Campos basin’s Barracuda field. Described as its second leak of the year some 59 miles off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state, where a separation pipe on platform P-43 sprung a leak of approximately thirty barrels of oil.

Petrobrás called the Brazilian Navy off the coast of São Paulo, Brazil News

Petrobrás called the Brazilian Navy off the coast of São Paulo, photo by ANP.

Petrobrás reported that it contacted the Brazilian Navy, the National Oil Agency (ANP) and IBAMA, and that it activated its emergency response plan, sending a total of six ships to the area. The cleanup was reportedly done in a day by mechanical dispersants since the spill only created a thin sheen of oil on the water’s surface.

An investigation into the cause of the ruptured pipe is underway. Despite the relatively small scale and quick reaction, there seems to be a discrepancy in the number of leaks attributed to the company since the beginning of the year.

“Since they say the Barracuda leak off the coast of Rio is the second they are not counting Transpetro’s spill of diesel fuel in Tramandaí,” says oil industry expert Jim Kappeler, referring to a little-covered spill in Rio Grande do Sul state by a logistics and pipeline subsidiary of Petrobrás.

On January 26th, Transpetro reported an oil spill at Terminal Osório, about four miles off the coast of Rio Grande do Sul. The accident occurred in a monobouy sleeve when the company attempted to transfer oil from a ship to monobuoy 602.

The oil reached the shores of a popular gaucho beach town, Tramandaí, frequented by tourists some 89 miles from the state capital of Porto Alegre. A day after the spill, Transpetro released a statement that it had completed the cleanup of almost thirteen square feet of oil.

IBAMA did two flyovers to assess the damage of the spill, verifying that the slick was less than half of a square mile. Despite having 150 men working on the cleanup, the area was restricted by Rio Grande do Sul state’s Foundation of Environmental Protection (Fepam) until February 17th.

Brazil offshore oil fields, Brazil News

Brazil offshore oil fields are concentrated off the southeastern coast, image recreation.

Petrobrás’ second spill in 2012 occurred on January 31st, when the state-controlled company detected a disruption in the flow of oil through the pipeline on FPWSO Dynamic Producer, leaking an estimated 160 barrels (25,600 liters) of oil into the water off the coast of São Paulo state.

When asked for a sense of scale, Kappeler replies that one has to rely on what the companies report. “Tramandaí they say was 1.5 cubic meters of fuel. That is about 1,500 liters or about ten barrels,” Kappeler explains, adding that there may have been some environmental damage.

“The [São Paulo] pre-salt leak they say was 160 barrels, no damage. [The] Chevron leak was originally said to be 300 barrels but later it was increased to [approximately] 2,400 barrels,” he explains, referring to the record fines and legal actions the Brazilian government hit Chevron with for its November spill.

“I am not saying that [Petrobrás] will not be fined, but I am sure they will not be processed on criminal charges and sued for ten billion. In addition there was noise from the politicians to ban Chevron from Brazil. Who thinks that could happen to Petrobras?”

These numbers are barely comparable to the 2010 BP spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, which was approximately 14,000 times more than Chevron’s spill in Brazil. It has all served as a wake up call though, and contingency response plans have been promised and are underway.