According to the Brazilian press, there is a record of 95 incidents in the last 15 months, including major disasters such as the Guanabara Bay oil spill (1.3 million litres of oil in January 2000) and the Araucária oil spill (4 million litres in July 2000).This indicates that Petrobrás has failed to implement a comprehensive safety programme able to prevent and deal with oil spills and, therefore, to avoid destructive environmental impacts.
Regarding the sinking this morning of the P-36 oil rig, the largest oil rig in the world of its kind, WWF expects that Petrobrás will do whatever is necessary to prevent the oil from reaching the coastal area of the State of Rio de Janeiro, near which the rig is located. This should be done by removing from the sea all oil and diesel that leaks from the rig, thereby preventing it from causing any serious environmental distress.
Should the oil reach the coast of Rio de Janeiro, it might affect a coastal protected area (Jurubatiba National Park), as well as mangroves, coral reefs and several marine species, beaches and population centres where it could have unpredictable short and long term effects. In this case, Petrobrás should be held responsible for all damage that might occur and must invest whatever is necessary to clean it up and restore the ecosystems affected, as well as face the penalties of the environmental legislation.
The area where the rig is located, 120 km from the coast, is not a priority a area in terms of biodiversity and WWF believes the environmental damage might be reduced if all proper measures are taken in the next days to contain the spill. The explosions responsible for the sinking occurred five days ago and, according to experts, it would take further 8 days for the oil to reach the coast, thus giving Petrobrás enough time to implement an emergency plan, deploying all personnel and equipment necessary to contain the spill.
WWF-Brazil is calling for an in-depth audit on this and previous incidents to clarify the real situation regarding the safety procedures and rapid response schemes adopted by Petrobrás, in order to restore the company's credibility and stop the series of incidents that are threatening several lives and endangered ecosystems such as the coastal zone, wetlands, and the Atlantic Forest, among others.
Such investigation should address also the reason that took so long for Petrobrás to run an independent assessment of its environmental safety procedures, as requested by WWF and other NGOs after the Araucária disaster, last year. This assessment had just started when the latest incident occurred with the P-36 oil rig.
Petrobrás must also clearly demonstrate to the Brazilian population what measures it has taken so far to strengthen safety measures in order to avoid future incidents. Finally, Petrobrás should take immediate action to provide all its facilities with the proper environmental licensing, adopting all necessary measures to follow the current environmental legislation.
For further information:
Ulisses Lacava, Coordenador de Comunicaç=E3o/Communications Director WWF- Brasil E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org