Brazil’s environmental agency denies Petrobras license for offshore drilling near the Amazon, citing technical inconsistencies and environmental risks.
In a decisive victory for environmental activists, Brazil's environmental regulatory agency has denied the license for a proposed offshore oil drilling project by state-run Petrobras near the Amazon River mouth due to "a group of technical inconsistencies" and environmental risk factors, according to agency President Rodrigo Agostinho.
Petrobras, facing peak production in the near future, had planned to bolster its reserves with the controversial FZA-M-59 block project, allocating nearly half of its $6 billion, five-year exploration budget to the region. CEO Jean Paul Prates had previously assured that the first well would be temporary and maintained that the company had no history of offshore leaks. However, this failed to convince the environmental watchdog.
According to AP News, Agostinho expressed in his verdict, "Petrobras was given every chance to rectify critical aspects of its project, yet it still harbors alarming inconsistencies for safe operation in a new exploratory region with high socioenvironmental vulnerability."
The Climate Observatory, an association of environmental nonprofits, hailed Agostinho's decision, seeing it as a step towards the climate crisis mitigation promised by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's administration.
Silva's previous presidential terms from 2003 to 2010 saw significant offshore oil discoveries which financed a range of health, education, and welfare programs. Some members of Silva's Workers' Party continue to regard oil as a means of facilitating social progress.
Energy Minister Alexandre Silveira had earlier labelled the region as the "passport to the future" for development in Brazil's northern area, echoing Silva's description of offshore oil discoveries in an area known as pre-salt.
However, Silva's return to the presidency saw a refocusing on environmental protection, particularly of the Amazon, a cornerstone of his campaign. Activists had cautioned that sanctioning the offshore oil project might tarnish Silva's rebranded image as an environmental champion.
The licensing process for the FZA-M-59 block, initiated in 2014 by BP Energy do Brasil, was transferred to Petrobras in 2020. Suely Araújo, the former head of the environmental agency, applauded Agostinho's decision, calling it the right call for the nation.
"The decision sparks a broader debate about the role of oil in the country's future. It is time to chart a timeline for phasing out fossil fuels and expedite the fair transition for oil-exporting countries, like Brazil, rather than inaugurate a new exploration frontier," Araújo stated. "Those who dream today of oil wealth may wake tomorrow to a stranded asset, or an ecological disaster, or both."
Despite this victory for environmentalists, other contentious projects, such as an infrastructure-heavy highway, a major grain transport railway, and a giant hydroelectric dam's license renewal, continue to loom over the Amazon.
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