A public civil action filed this Friday morning (17) asks that 11 blocks for oil exploration be removed from the offer opened by the ANP (National Agency for Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels) because they have not undergone environmental analysis.
The blocks are located in the Potiguar basin, approximately 135 km away from Atoll das Rocas and 252 km from Fernando de Noronha.
The action was filed by the Arayara Institute, a non-governmental organization focused on energy transition issues, and concerns blocks in the so-called SPOT-AP2 sector, on the coast of Rio Grande do Norte. They are part of the 4th Cycle of Permanent Offers carried out by the agency, which includes hundreds of blocks, on land and at sea, which should go to auction on December 13th.
According to the institute, the documentation used to validate the offer from an environmental point of view makes reference to a series of documents that, in fact, do not analyze the blocks referred to in the SPOT-AP2 sector. They are the blocks: POT-M-1040; POT-M-1042; POT-M-768; POT-M-770; POT-M-772; POT-M-774; POT-M-776; POT-M-861; POT-M-867; POT-M-954 and POT-M-956.
When contacted, the ANP denied, in a note, any irregularities and said that “the environmental bodies manifest themselves in a timely manner, within the scope of the joint demonstration, before the areas are included in the notice”.
Ibama was also contacted, but did not comment on the action until the report was published.
The auction should be held shortly after COP28, the UN (United Nations) climate conference, which takes place in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, between November 30th and December 12th.
For the executive director of Arayara, Nicole de Oliveira, holding an auction of this size, which she describes as “the worst in the history of the ANP”, following the COP is a contradiction for the Lula government (PT), which wants to be a leadership in climate negotiations and has demonstrated environmental concern.
“I think that [o leilão] discredits Brazil as a climate leader. It is very complicated to have such a huge inconsistency internally and still want to take external leadership, even if you are reducing deforestation. This is because the biggest problem in the world today in terms of greenhouse gas emissions is emissions from the burning of fossil fuels”, explains Oliveira.
The Potiguar basin is at the eastern end of the so-called Brazilian equatorial margin, which begins in the Foz do Amazonas basin, in Amapá — and which is at the center of an impasse between Petrobras and Ibama.
The bureaucratic trail of environmental analysis in the SPOT-AP2 sector
The lack of validation from environmental agencies is almost lost amid layers of bureaucracy. The first is that, by rule, sites offered for exploration must undergo a regional analysis, known as AAAS (Environmental Assessment of Sedimentary Areas).
However, since many basins have not yet gone through this stage, as is the case of Potiguar, a joint statement from the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Ministry of the Environment began to be adopted in place of the AAAS.
In the case of the blocks that are the target of the action, an opinion was used (Joint Manifestation nº 02/2020/ANP) previously used, in the 17th Bidding Round, in 2021.
This document actually mentions the blocks in the SPOT-AP2 sector, but says that “the areas to be offered in the Potiguar Basin were analyzed through Technical Information nº 2/2019-CGMA/DILIC”.
This 2019 report, in turn, mentions that the analysis of the blocks located in that sector was actually carried out in Technical Opinion No. 01/2018 of GTPEG (Interinstitutional Working Group on Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Activities ).
Despite this, the 2018 opinion analyzes other blocks in the Potiguar Basin, but does not make reference to any of the SPOT-AP2 sector currently offered.
“What can be seen is that although there is agreement between the MME and MMA to offer the blocks that are the subject of this public civil action, none of them are analyzed in the technical opinion that is used as technical justification”, says the action.
In the note sent to the report, the ANP highlights that the approval, by the ministries, of the inclusion of the blocks in the bidding rounds does not mean tacit approval for environmental licensing. “All activities that the concessionaires carry out in the areas will require a detailed environmental licensing process, which will be conducted by the competent environmental agency”, says the text.
In addition to pointing out the absence of technical analysis, Arayara highlights that the region where the 11 blocks are located has ecosystems that are “extremely sensitive and important for Brazilian biodiversity”, with environmental protection areas and “true oases for life that are the Atoll das Rocas and Fernando de Noronha”.
A 2018 Ibama assessment of other blocks in the same region points to the possibility of “non-mitigable impacts on artisanal fishing activity”.
The document also highlights that some of the blocks analyzed, as is the case with blocks in SPOT-AP2, are superimposed on seamounts (mountains of Touros, Maracatu and Baião), considered “unique habitats” by the agency.
“These formations are important because it is like a nursery for marine life. This is where the entire ecosystem is replenished and renewed”, explains the executive director of Arayara.
Another opinion on the Potiguar basin area, from ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation), states that the region is home to dozens of species threatened with extinction, is affected by several marine currents and is close to the Rocas Atoll Biological Reserve and of Fernando de Noronha National Park.
“Both exploratory activities and an accidental event can cause damage to the biological diversity of these ecosystems”, says the entity, which assesses the offer of blocks in the basin as reckless.
The public civil action also highlights restrictions regarding the depth and proximity of the SPOT-AP2 blocks to the coast.
Finally, the text highlights the importance of cutting the production of fossil fuels to curb climate change and asks that the offer of the 11 blocks be temporarily suspended until an environmental analysis is carried out by the competent bodies.
“The mere offering of the aforementioned blocks with the irregularities highlighted completely taints the process, and even creates legal uncertainty for the private sector”, says the text.
“Therefore, it requires, as a preliminary injunction, the suspension of the offer of the blocks located in the Potiguar Basin in the SPOT-AP2 Sector (Blocks POT-M-1040; POT-M-1042; POT-M-768; POT-M-770 ; POT-M-772; POT-M-774; POT-M-776; POT-M-861; POT-M-867; POT-M-954 and POT-M-956) until technical analysis is performed especially with reasoned opinions from bodies such as ICMBio and Ibama”.
For the public policy coordinator at the Climate Observatory and former president of Ibama, Suely Araújo, who was not involved in the action, the issue highlighted by Arayara is serious.
“This is a serious problem, if confirmed, and a reason, in itself, to grant an injunction”, he states.
Regarding the absence of AAAS, despite not being the object of the public civil action, she says that the regional study should be carried out in the five basins on the Brazilian equatorial margin: from Potiguar to Foz do Amazonas. “These are areas rich in biodiversity and fragile. Removing AAAS — and they have been doing this for years — brings legal uncertainty for the investors themselves”, he says.