THE flow of oil from cracks in the seabed off the coast of Rio de Janeiro has long since slowed to a mere trickle. Not so the retribution against Chevron, an American oil company that was drilling in the Frade oilfield on November 7th when a sudden rise in pressure caused a leak.
Brazil’s environment agency, IBAMA, has fined the company 50m reais ($28m) for the leak. On December 23rd it levied a further 10m reais for poor contingency planning. The National Petroleum Agency (ANP), the industry regulator, has closed one of Chevron’s Frade wells and suspended the firm’s drilling rights. The Rio de Janeiro state government is suing for 150m reais. A federal prosecutor in Campos, a city in the north of the state, is demanding 20 billion reais in punitive damages and seeking an injunction to halt all operations in Brazil by both Chevron and Transocean, the subcontractor drilling for it in Frade. Federal police, meanwhile, want to bring criminal charges against bosses of both companies.
After the 4.9m-barrel spill from the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, oil regulators around the world are in no mood for leniency. But the blitz against Chevron, for a leak of no more than 3,000 barrels, makes some industry-watchers wonder whether Brazil wants foreign oil companies at all. “The reactions are out of proportion with the size of the leak,” says José Goldemberg, an energy and environment specialist at the University of São Paulo. Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil giant, holds a minority stake in Frade, but none of the lawsuits or fines names it as a respondent. “I don’t think there would have been the same enthusiasm for big fines if Petrobras had been drilling.”
Brazil ended Petrobras’s monopoly and opened up its oil industry to private and foreign investment in the 1990s. But its recent oil policy has been “nationalist and populist”, says Adriano Pires, a Rio-based energy consultant and former ANP official. It has restricted foreign companies to secondary roles in most new projects. A law approved in 2010 requires that in the recently discovered ultra-deep pré-sal (“sub-salt”) fields, Petrobras must be the operator with a minimum 30% stake (existing concessions are unaffected). Mr Pires fears that Chevron’s mishandling of communications will only harden the new mood. The company was slow to make details of the accident public, he says, and arrogant when it did; press conferences in English went down particularly badly. “It gave the authorities another chance to claim that foreign oil companies drilling in Brazil act carelessly,” he laments.
上世纪90年代，巴西取消了Petrobras的垄断权，同时对私营企业和外国投资者开放该国的石油产业。但Adriano Pires表示，巴西最近的石油政策让其变成“国家主义者和平民主义者”。 Adriano Pires是扎根里约热内卢能源顾问，同时也是巴西国家石油管理局的前官员。在大多数新项目上，巴西已经将外国公司置诸次要地位。2010年，一项经批准的法律要求最近被发现的超级深海盐田，Petrobras作为经营的一方必须至少拥有30%的股份（目前的特许权看来是不会动摇的）。Pires担忧不正确的公关举措将只会加深这种新的情绪。Pires表示，雪佛龙傲慢的态度以及缓慢公布这次泄漏事故的相关细节。用英语的记者执行使这种情况变得更糟。“这给当局另一个机会去指责在巴西钻探的外国石油公司表现漫不经心。”Pires惋惜地表示。