Oil leak in Foz do Amazonas could reach neighboring countries, says expedition

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With the support of the Greenpeace boat, researchers from the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research of the State of Amapá (IEPA) embarked on a 21-day scientific expedition in Foz do Amazonas, from Pará to Amapá, to better understand the dynamics of coastal waters and map possible impacts of oil exploration in the region. After observing the movement of seven oceanographic equipment that emit location signals, the study indicates that in the event of an oil spill accident at the site, the oil could spread to French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana.

It is in this basin, in Amapá, that the so-called block FZA-M-59 (or block 59) is located, where there is interest from the state-owned Petrobras. The company was denied a license by the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) in May 2023 and is awaiting a new decision. In general, the justification at the time was the lack of sufficient studies on the area, something that Enrico Marone, oceans spokesperson for Greenpeace, agrees with. “There are few models regarding the hydrodynamic characteristics of this coastal and marine zone and it is very important for us to have a better understanding of these dynamics to be able to interpret what would happen in the event of an oil spill”, he explains.

The trip was carried out during the month of March aboard the sailboat Witness, which, as it is smaller than other types of vessel (such as a ship), allows access to narrower and shallower sections of the river. At various locations along the route, seven tracking devices, called drifters, were launched, which are 20-centimeter buoys that remain on the surface and simulate the dispersion of pollutants.

On the expedition page, you can follow updates on these locators. Monitoring continues and the official report is expected to be released in a few weeks.

Researcher Luís Takiyama, from Iepa, collects data on currents in the region where Petrobras intends to explore oil. Photo: © Enrico Marone / Greenpeace

Preliminary results already signal warnings. In a short time, two of the drifters arrived in protected areas in the Amazon: the Environmental Protection Area (APA) of the Marajó Archipelago, in Pará, and the Lago Piratuba Ecological Reserve, in Amapá. “Of the other five that we launched in deeper areas and also on top of block 59, one crossed the border with French Guiana. The other touched the coast of Suriname, one more reached the coast of Guyana and two of them continue traveling towards the Caribbean”, describes Marone, who is also an oceanologist. If the drifters reached these areas, this means that it is likely that, in the event of an oil leak, the same thing will happen. “This could create a big diplomatic problem as well,” he warns.

Another concern is the threat that an accident from this activity would pose to the Amazon mangroves, which make up the largest ecosystem belt in the world. “These are environments dominated by macrotides, which can reach 12 meters. So, just imagine, if an oil slick comes in a tide and enters a mangrove, it will settle in this complex environment, full of roots, after the tide goes down. It would be irreversible damage”, he adds. In Foz do Amazonas there is also the island of Maracá, where there is one of the largest concentrations of jaguars in the world.

Decree on environmental study should be published soon

One of the reasons for the denial of Petrobras’ license last year was the absence of an Environmental Assessment of Sedimentary Area (AAAS). The instrument is the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) and the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) and assesses the impact of natural gas and oil production projects across the entire chain. Earlier this week, Folha de S. Paulo published an announcement that would have been made by the director of Ibama, Rodrigo Agostinho, that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva must publish a decree on the need to carry out the AAAS to obtain authorization drilling in the country. Although the evaluation was instituted in Brazil in 2012, it ended up not becoming practical and Agostinho believes that the decree can help everyone have “the same understanding”.

Petrobras foresees investments of more than R$15 billion in the region, also known as the Equatorial Margin. However, for Greenpeace, betting on this type of activity is contrary to the climate leader position that Brazil assumes on the global stage. The boat anchored in Belém (PA) on Monday (25) and took advantage of French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the city to display banners against oil exploration in the Amazon. The European was accompanied by President Lula at the time and a delegation of ministers, including Marina Silva, from the MMA.

“Globally, fossil fuels are the main emitter of CO2 and greatly worsen the climate crisis. It no longer makes sense to support the opening of new frontiers for oil exploration, especially here in the Foz do Amazonas basin, a region that is so sensitive from a socio-environmental point of view”, declares Enrico Marone.

For him, COP 30, a world conference on climate change that will be held in Belém next year, is an opportunity to raise debate about the importance of conserving coastal and marine environments for climate balance and maintaining the way of life. of communities.

The Maracá-Jipióca Ecological Station, in Amapá, is located near Foz do Amazonas. Photo Marizilda Cruppe / Greenpeace.

Report highlights community concerns

The expedition also dedicated itself to listening to the traditional communities that live in this coastal region. Of the 103 people interviewed, 42.7% had negative expectations about oil exploration and almost 69.2% cited the impacts on fishing and marine life as a negative factor, mainly indicating the oil spill as a possible cause. Furthermore, only 4% of those interviewed stated that they had participated in a public hearing about the project.

In a statement, Petrobras highlights that it has been operating for 70 years, including in the Amazon, without any event causing environmental damage. “Even if there was a large leak during drilling (blowout), the probability of the leaked oil reaching the Amazon coast is zero, according to the most modern computer models for simulating fluid dispersion prepared by the company and approved by Ibama”, informs the company. “More than 428 drifters have already been launched on the Equatorial Margin, 84 of which in the Foz do Amazonas basin. The studies demonstrated that the sea currents headed in the opposite direction to the Brazilian coast”, said the text, in contrast to the Greenpeace survey.

Photo: © Enrico Marone / Greenpeace

Finally, the state-owned company highlighted the actions it has been carrying out, such as the Ecological Characterization of Reef Systems project in the Foz do Amazonas Basin, in which scientific expeditions are carried out on board, a cooperation between Petrobras, the Brazilian Navy, the Ministry of Science and Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and Geological Survey of Brazil (SGB). The next departure will be in the second quarter of 2024.

Regarding prior consultation with communities, Petrobras highlights “that prior consultation does not apply to the well drilling phase to identify the existence of oil and gas in the region. The appropriate time to carry out prior consultation with traditional communities about oil and gas activity is after the discoveries, in the production development phase, if the activity will directly affect them”.

Photo: © Marizilda Cruppe / Greenpeace

Amazon Corals

The expedition continues the work dedicated to the region that Greenpeace began in 2017, aboard the ship Esperanza, which, like the sailboat Witness, is relocated to different parts of the world, depending on research needs. In partnership with research institutions, the NGO used submarines and made the first video recordings of corals in the Amazon, which is believed to have influenced the denial given by Ibama to the French oil company Total E&P, which was trying to explore oil at the mouth of the Amazon River, in 2018.

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Oil leak Foz Amazonas reach neighboring countries expedition

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