Contrary to calls by scientists, civil society, religious leaders, and millions of citizens around the world for concrete measures in favour of life and sustainable development, Brazil’s National Agency for Oil, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP) will hold the 16th Block Bidding Auction for Exploration and Production of Oil and Natural Gas. The Brazilian government’s initiative places further faith in a model of unsustainable and dirty economic growth, which harms not only the environment, but the entire population that depends on activities such as tourism and traditional subsistence fishing (see more in Box 2).
In an area of almost 30,000 square kilometres, 36 blocks located in seven sectors of five sedimentary basins will be open for companies to exploit their extraction potential. It is not yet possible to determine the exact size of the reserves in these locations. However, in the auctioned regions, there are huge known environmental risks.
The Camamu-Almada basin, situated on the east coast of Brazil between the cities of Salvador and Ilhéus in the state of Bahia, is a example of these risks. By continuing to offer oil exploration in the region, the ANP threatens the Abrolhos Marine National Park, which has the largest marine biodiversity in the South Atlantic and is known worldwide for being the birthing place of humpback whales. For the 16th Auction Round, four exploratory blocks are on offer in this region – totalling an area of 2,985.74 km².
The risk of accidents to Abrolhos Marine National Park is enormous
According to the Ministry of Environment’s Oil Spill Environmental Sensitivity Charts, on a scale of 1 to 10, the southern Bahia and Abrolhos region was evaluated at 9, reaching almost the highest sensitivity level.
The Jacuípe basin, also located on Brazil’s eastern continental margin in the state of Bahia, has a southwestern geographic boundary with Camamu-Almada and has three other strictly maritime blocks, in an area of just over 2,000 km². The oil exploration in this area also poses serious risks to Abrolhos.
The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) has made technical recommendations pointing out the environmental risks to the region. In spite of this, the Institute’s President, Eduardo Fortunato Bim, and the director-general of the ANP, Décio Oddone, signed the authorization for the auction – in so doing, recognizing the risk of accidental spills reaching “important areas of endemic and endangered species in the short term”.
In April 2019, when IBAMA’s president signed the authorization, several civil society organizations created petitions requesting that the blocks not be auctioned.. 350.org Brazil and the country’s Federal Public Prosecution Service (MPF) have also suggested public civil actions to prevent the auctioning of these blocks. However, decisions have not yet been obtained from the Federal Justice and the state of Bahia regarding prohibiting the auction, causing IBAMA to continue its proceedings with the license.
“The Brazilian government continues to do a great disservice to its own citizens and to the global population in continuing to prioritize fossil fuel projects in the Abrolhos basins and beyond. The terrestrial capacity to absorb greenhouse gas emissions released by this type of activity has already been depleted. The only way we can minimize the effects of the climate crisis is to protect our territories and commit to investing in 100% renewable, clean, fair and free energy sources”, says 350.org mobilization director Nicole Figueiredo de Oliveira.
An accident would affect more than 55,000 families
The Abrolhos Marine National Park is the first park to be granted its specific conservation status and today is 36 years old. The region has the largest marine biodiversity in the South Atlantic, with approximately 1,300 species, 45 of which are considered endangered.
The Abrolhos National Park spans an area of 87,943 hectares and is managed by ICMBio. The Park’s conservation and protection contributes to the livelihood of about 20,000 people and fishing in the areas surrounding the park generates $100 million per year, representing 10% of the total revenue for fishing in Brazil.
According to Luiz Afonso Rosário, a consultant to 350.org Brazil specialised in traditional communities, an oil spill in the region could harm at least 55,000 families who depend on traditional subsistence fishing.
Despite a wealth of information about environmental and climate risks, 17 giant oil companies, mainly foreign, have signed up to participate in the auction. Chevron and Exxonmobil, from the United States; Ecopetrol, from Colombia; and Total, from France; are just some to name a few; not to mention how easy it is to find news of scandalous corruption cases, oil leaks, and other suspicious practices involving some of the participating companies.
Juliano Bueno de Araújo, Campaign Associate Director for 350.org Latin America, points out that investing in these areas not only worsens the climate emergency we are experiencing – because oil and gas extraction is primarily responsible for worsening climate change – but it can also become a high-risk business for oil companies. “A potential oil spill in this region would soon reach important areas with over 1,300 species – some endemic and endangered. Beyond the untold environmental destruction, the companies could sustain billions of dollars in damage,” he says.
Juliano recalls that for decades, representatives of Brazilian civil society have been demonstrating against the exploitation of fossil fuels. “It’s an industry with backward and cruel practices that acts without transparency and holds no regard for affected communities and environments, concerned only with making profit. It is beyond reason that we are still considering investing in high-risk projects, when we have numerous sustainable energy technologies that can help curb the rising intensity of the climate crisis,” adds Araújo.
The levels of risks and uncertainties regarding the Camamu-Almada and Jacuípe blocks should be enough for participating companies not to invest in the areas. It is worth remembering that there are a further 29 auction blocks that also pose serious environmental risks and aggravation of the climate crisis through emissions generated by oil extraction. 350.org Brazil, in partnership with the Non-Fracking Brazil Coalition for Climate, Water and Life (COESUS) and the Arayara International Institute, has pressured governments since 2013 to meet the climate commitments set by Brazil and all other countries in the world. The NGOs also advocate for the energy transition and the extension of renewable energies, respecting social and environmental justice.
Paulinne Giffhorn | [email protected]