Two oil leaks from deepwater drilling operations off the coast of Brazil have washed up on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. In early November, a deepwater oil rig owned by Chevron and operated by Transocean began leaking approximately 200-300 barrels of oil into the water each day. The leaking is said to be a result of the difficult nature of extracting a newly discovered reserve of deepwater oil. These reserves are referred to as “pre-salt,” because of the overlying salt deposits, estimated at over one-mile thick, which cover the ocean floor. The oil reserves themselves are located over four miles deep which presents extraordinary technical challenges for the extraction process. Brazilian environmental officials say Chevron has not been so forthcoming with the information related to how extensive the leak actually is. It has been reported that Chevron actually intentionally provided inaccurate estimates of how much oil was leaking into the ocean. This prompted the Brazilian government to suspend Chevron’s drilling operations off the coast, and file a $10.6 billion lawsuit against them and rig operator Transocean.
To make matters worse, a second oil spill from a Japanese oil rig occurred last week off the coast of Ilha Grande and Angra dos Reis in Brazil. Even though this particular oil spill is smaller than the November Chevron spill, its effects are just are devastating, especially because it has reached the shores of Brazil. Public health issues combined with effects the oil will have on the sensitive ecosystems have Brazilian governmental officials very concerned. In response to the spill, the Brazilian government has imposed a $5.4 million fine on Modec, the oil rig operator.
These stories are eerily similar to the historical BP oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico last year. As conventionally extracted reserves of fossil fuels are being depleted, the search for alternative sources through deepwater drilling is becoming a more common practice.