Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Brazil Bars 17 Oil Workers from Leaving after Spill

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Brazil Bars 17 Oil Workers from Leaving after Spill

Article excerpt

RIO DE JANEIRO -- A Brazilian court has ordered 17 employees from two U.S. companies, oil giant Chevron and rig operator Transocean, to surrender their passports, barring them from leaving Brazil as authorities prepare to file criminal charges in coming days in connection with an offshore oil spill involving the companies.

The ruling by Judge Vlamir Costa Magalhaes, issued late Friday night, adds to Chevron's woes in Brazil, which began in November when oil was found to be leaking from an offshore field controlled by Chevron. Prosecutors have already filed a civil lawsuit seeking damages of 20 billion reals, or about $11.2 billion, from the company.

Brazil's navy and Chevron said Friday that they had detected a new sheen of oil from the same field where the earlier spill occurred.

Chevron's legal battle points to the high stakes involved in Brazil's plans to tap its huge offshore oil fields. If Brazil meets its ambitious production targets, by the 2020s, the country may rank among the world's largest oil producers, with output rivaling or surpassing traditional oil powers like Iran or Venezuela.

But achieving those goals requires companies to drill in immensely challenging offshore conditions. Pointing to the example of BP's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental officials in Brazil say stiff penalties are needed against Chevron in order to pressure it and other companies to adopt strict procedures for preventing and dealing with spills.

Chevron, the largest foreign oil company operating in Brazil, has argued that the country's response to the November spill, which was a tiny fraction of the size of the 2010 BP spill, was an "overreaction."

"I've never seen a spill this small with this size of reaction," Ali Moshiri, the head of Chevron's Latin America operations, told the Wall Street Journal in late 2011.

Such contentions did not sit well in Brazil. …

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