Foz do Amazonas: understand the region disputed by Petrobras – 05/25/2023 – Environment
Target of an impasse between the government’s environmental and energy areas, the basin at the mouth of the Amazon is considered by the oil sector to be part of the solution to renew Brazilian reserves with the beginning of the decline in pre-salt production in the next decade.
The new frontier sought by the oil industry, however, raises concern in the Ministry of the Environment, which advocates a more complete assessment of the impacts of this activity in a biodiverse and vulnerable location.
The region has already had 95 oil wells drilled, with only one commercial discovery of natural gas and a high rate of abandonment due to operational difficulties, which the sector says is a reflection of outdated technology when the region had its exploration peak, in the 1970s.
Occupying an area of about 350 thousand kmtwo, equivalent to the state of Goiás, the basin extends between Marajó Bay, in Pará, and the border with French Guiana. It had its first oil well drilled in 1970, without discovering oil.
Of the 95 wells drilled in the region, 31 were abandoned due to operational difficulties. In the last attempt, in 2011, for example, Petrobras suspended drilling due to strong currents.
The only discovery in the basin was made in 1976, but abandoned due to logistical difficulties, according to data from the ANP (National Agency for Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels). The basin was set aside by Petrobras in the 1980s, after the discovery of the Campos basin, on the coast of Rio de Janeiro.
Despite successive failures, the basin at the mouth of the Amazon returned to the radar after giant oil discoveries in Guyana and Suriname, which made the Brazilian equatorial margin more promising — a set of five sedimentary basins that extends for 2,200 km, from Rio Grande do Norte to Amapá.
In Guyana, the American ExxonMobil has already approved six production platforms, which in 2027 will reach the mark of 1.2 million barrels per day, a little more than the Tupi field, the largest oil producer in Brazil.
A 2021 study estimates that one of the basins on the equatorial margin, that of Pará-Maranhão, has reserves of 20 billion to 30 billion barrels, half of what has been discovered to date in the pre-salt layer. One of the authors of the study, geologist Pedro Zalán says that the potential of the mouth of the Amazon is equivalent.
The well that Petrobras is trying to license was acquired in the 11th ANP bidding round in 2013. It is 179 km from the coast of Amapá and 500 km from the mouth of the Amazon River, a distance that has been used as an argument by Amapá politicians and the sector for project release.
The logistical difficulties, however, were one of the determining points for Ibama (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) to veto the drilling. Due to distances, oil activity in the region demands a high flow of vessels and aircraft and, in an emergency, sending help is a challenge.
The project’s Environmental Impact Report identifies species threatened by exploitation in the project’s area of influence, such as pink shrimp, pito, red lobster and uçá crab.
It also identifies 23 species of marine mammals, including whales, porpoises and dolphins, and two species of manatees. Of these, six are threatened with extinction in Brazil: gray dolphin, red dolphin, sperm whale, marine manatee, Amazonian manatee and giant otter.
In addition to animals —the first to be at risk in the event of an oil spill—, coastal communities that live from fishing would be affected.
The project’s area of influence encompasses quilombola communities, seven federal, seven state and one municipal conservation units. There is also an indigenous land directly impacted by the air support base.
Environmentalist organizations are also protesting against the risk of impact on the so-called Amazon corals, discovered in 2016 after a Greenpeace expedition, with species that have not even had the opportunity to be studied.
The possibility of burial, suffocation and contamination of seabed organisms by gravel or fluid is one of the high magnitude impacts foreseen in the Environmental Impact Report.
Simulations indicate that, in the event of a spill, the oil would not reach the Brazilian coast, since the prevailing current in the region is heading northwest —although Ibama does not rule out the possibility, citing an episode in which the wreckage of a rocket launched in French Guiana reached Oiapoque ( AP).
But the simulation shows potential damage to neighboring countries and Caribbean islands. The first country to be hit in the rainy season would be Guyana and, in the dry season, Barbados. In both scenarios, what would receive the largest volume of oil would be Venezuela.
When announcing that it will appeal the decision, Petrobras says that the possibility of a leak is remote and that “the emergency response structure proposed by the company is the largest in the country”. There are 12 vessels and three helicopters supporting the drilling rig.
The company understands that it met all the constraints of the process, including the provision of faster vessels, with a kind of mobile ICU, to reduce the time to rescue animals from 48 to 24 hours.
The state company assesses that the obligation of an AAAS (Environmental Assessment of Sedimentary Area) before the well license, requested by Ibama in recent weeks, violates rules established before the auction of the area, in 2013, which eliminated the need created in the previous year.
There are currently two AAAS underway in the country, unfinished for over six years. For this reason, Petrobras technicians understand that the period projected by the government of 2.5 years is unrealistic and that the evaluation could be done after the well, since the start of production takes around six to seven years.
The government’s environmental area, in turn, has complained about Petrobras’ alleged attempt to create “fait accompli”, including the mobilization of probes and other equipment in the region since December.
“Licenses related to the production of oil and gas are given when the discovery is already a reality, and are often treated as a ‘fait accompli’, in terms of civil society’s perception of the possibility of setting up the oil industry,” he says. Ibama’s January report.
The Planeta em Transe project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.