RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Brazil’s environment agency has rejected a license for a controversial oil prospecting project near the mouth of the Amazon River, met with strong protests from activists who warned of the risk of damage to the region. Was given
The agency’s president, Rodrigo Agostinho, highlighted environmental concerns late Wednesday in announcing his decision to reject state company Petrobras’ request to drill FZA-M-59 in the field. It pointed out “several technical inconsistencies” in the company’s application.
Brazil’s current crude oil production is expected to peak in the coming years, and Petrobras is seeking to acquire more reserves off Brazil’s northern coast. The company has allocated about half of its $6 billion prospecting budget for that area.
The oil company’s CEO, Jean-Paul Prates, has said that the first well will be temporary and that the company has never recorded a leak from its offshore drilling. The company failed to convince the Environment Agency.
“There is no doubt that Petrobras had every opportunity to overcome important aspects of this project, but it still presents worrying anomalies with respect to the safe operation of a new potential frontier with high socio-environmental vulnerability, Agostinho wrote in his decision.
The unique and biodiverse area is home to little-studied mangroves and a coral reef, and activists and experts have said the project risks leaks that could endanger the sensitive environment.
Eight environmental and civil society organisations, including WWF Brazil and Greenpeace, called for the license to be denied pending a thorough study.
Caetano Scanavino, coordinator of Health and Happiness, an Amazonian non-profit group that promotes sustainable projects in the Tapajos Basin, praised Agostinho on Twitter for “not succumbing to pressure, asking for more studies, and prioritizing science at the service of the community.” Congratulations for
“This is a sensitive area, understood, and there is no going back on any mistakes here,” Scanavino said. “Not to mention the government’s promise of a carbon-free future.”
The Climate Observatory, a network of non-profit environmental organizations, also welcomed the decision and said in a statement that “Agostinho is protecting a practically unknown ecosystem and maintaining the harmony of the Lula government, which in his speech I have promised to be guided by who will fight the climate crisis.
During the first presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva between 2003 and 2010, the vast discovery of offshore reserves became a way of funding health, education and welfare programs. Some members of his Workers’ Party see oil as a guarantee of social progress.
Energy Minister Alexandre Silveira said in March that the region is a “passport to the future” for the development of Brazil’s northern region. In his opening words, Lula used the same phrase to describe oil discoveries in an area known as the Pre-salt.
But Lula has since struggled to display a new environmental consciousness, and his defense of the Amazon was a constant feature of his campaign last year to oust Jair Bolsonaro and return to the presidency.
Activists and experts warned that authorizing oil prospecting could threaten the natural environment, as well as tarnish Lula’s new image as an environmental defender.
At the request of BP Energy do Brasil, the process of obtaining an environmental license for the FZA-M-59 field began in 2014. Prospecting rights were transferred to Petrobras in 2020.
Sully Araujo, former director of the Environment Agency and now a public policy specialist at the Climate Observatory, said Agostinho had made the right decision not only for that particular project, but also for the country.
“The decision in this case gives rise to a wider debate about the role of oil in the country’s future. It calls for the phasing out of fossil fuels and justifies oil-exporting countries like Brazil,” Araújo said in a statement. It’s time to set a timetable to accelerate change.” “Those who go to sleep today dreaming of oil wealth wake up tomorrow with stranded assets, or ecological disaster, or both.”
Other controversial mega-projects in the Amazon are still on the table, such as reviving a highway that would cut through protected forests, building a giant railroad to transport grain, and renewing a license for a massive hydroelectric dam.