Build oil wells in the high seas, at the height of the Amazon delta, from where millions of barrels of crude could be extracted. It is a hypothesis that Brazil has on the table and that is beginning to generate friction in the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The semi-state oil company Petrobras presented a project to explore the area and understand exactly what its potential is, but the environment ministry has denied authorization, citing possible risks for the region. When the Environment technicians knocked down the request from the oil company with their report, Lula did not consider the issue closed and left a door open: “If exploiting that oil is a problem for the Amazon, clearly it will not be exploited, but I see it as difficult, because it is 530 kilometers from the Amazon”.
This Tuesday, a little more than 24 hours after the president’s words, the Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, met with representatives of Petrobras and the Ministry of Mines and Energy in the presidential palace, and when leaving she was blunt: “It is a technical decision, and a technical decision, in a republican government, is fulfilled”, settled. The nuances between the two statements reveal the delicate balance between the interests of the oil company, which Lula sees as an emblem and economic motor of the country, and Silva’s more conservationist ideas.
The company’s project plans to explore an area that is more than 500 kilometers from the meeting of the Amazon River with the Atlantic and 175 kilometers from the coast of the State of Amapá. The ministry’s technical document argues, among other points, that the plan is not viable because it does not present guarantees against possible accidents with oil spills and that there is a lack of information on what the impact would be on three indigenous lands, despite their remoteness.
After the refusal, the Ministry of Mines and Energy did not sit idly by and asked Petrobras to keep the probes it has in the area doing preliminary studies and to present a new petition. The oil company also pointed out that the exploitation of the area is part of a commitment assumed with the state oil agency, and that if it does not do so “it will incur a contractual fine.”
Environmentalists argue that 80% of Brazil’s mangroves are found in the Amazon delta, making up the largest continuous belt in the world. Offshore, in the depths of the sea, hide corals that have still been barely studied (the first images came to light just five years ago) and that arouse the curiosity of scientists due to their adaptation to fresh and salt water. The latest studies indicate that this fragile ecosystem is located some 100 kilometers from the coast and that it could have more than 56,000 square kilometers, covering the entire northern coast of Brazil and part of French Guiana. Organizations such as Greenpeace have long been pressing for the protection of this area. In 2018, a proposal to shield it by creating a natural park even reached Parliament, but it was rejected three years later.
Petrobras defends that other companies are already working on wells in neighboring French Guiana, and that everything suggests that “a new pre-salt” could be hidden in the seabed in the Brazilian part, referring to the valuable deposits found on the south coast and southeast of the country in 2006 and that then President Lula interpreted as manna.
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It is estimated that the basin off the mouth of the Amazon could hold 10 billion barrels of oil. Years ago, the discovery of the pre-salt poured money from royalties to the municipalities and states where the deposits are located, something that is very much in mind in Amapá. Politicians in this small and remote state in northern Brazil lament that Marina Silva’s ministry has shelved so quickly and without addressing local demands.
Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, head of the parliamentary base that supports the government and known for his environmental stances, expressed his discomfort with Silva leaving Rede, the party to which they both belonged. “The Amapaense people want to have the right to be heard about the possible existence and eventual destination of our wealth,” he criticized.
Minister Silva’s meeting this Tuesday and the pressure to be more flexible must bring back not very pleasant memories. In Lula’s second term, she left the portfolio after continuous confrontations precisely with the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which at that time was occupied by later President Dilma Rousseff. After years apart, Silva and Lula made peace in the last electoral campaign. The veteran environmentalist said that Lula had changed and that she understood that the environment and the climate urgency had to be a priority on her agenda.
The president, for the moment, treats the controversy with lead feet. He knows that putting the Amazon and oil in the same sentence is an explosive cocktail that could set off alarm bells outside of Brazil, just when the country was beginning to regain prestige in green diplomacy after four years of setbacks by former President Jair Bolsonaro.
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