Brazilian oil explorer Petrobras faces refinery pollution charges

The Brazilian oil company which faced protests in New Zealand when it did deep-sea exploratory work off East Cape last year faces charges relating to the alleged dumping of oil into the sea at a Rio de Janeiro refinery.

BUSINESSDESK: The Brazilian oil company which faced protests in New Zealand when it did deep-sea exploratory work off East Cape last year faces charges relating to the alleged dumping of oil into the sea at a Rio de Janeiro refinery.

Greenpeace alerted New Zealand media to the criminal charges, which Petrobras has said it will defend.

International media reports earlier this month quoted Brazilian public prosecutor Renato Machado as saying the charges related to oil spills in June 2011, although Bloomberg reported him as saying "everything indicates this occurred constantly".

"The Reduc [refinery] acted with complete negligence. They knew since 2007 at least that the treatment stations were obsolete and not functioning adequately and they did nothing," Mr Machado was reported as saying by the Financial Times.

However, the size of the spills was small compared to those which occurred in a deep-sea oil drilling accident in the Atlantic Ocean last year, which has seen the Brazilian government pursue $US20 billion lawsuits against the multi-national oil companies Chevron and TransOcean.

That incident has led to a crackdown by Brazilian authorities on the petroleum industry.

The Duque de Caxias refinery allegedly contaminated the mangroves and estuary of Guanabara Bay off Rio de Janeiro. The heavily populated area is noted in website postings for its high murder rate, open sewers and heavy industrial facilities.

A survey ship working for Petrobras shooting seismic data in the deep-sea Raukumara Basin off the East Cape of the North Island was last year blockaded by a small flotilla of protest vessels organised by Greenpeace and a local Maori iwi, Te Whanau a Apanui.

Petrobras claimed at the time it had greatly improved its environmental and health and safety performance in recent years, since moving out of government ownership and becoming a stock exchange-listed company.

The company was quoted in the Financial Times as saying in a statement: "The water produced along with the oil at the platforms is treated and discarded in accordance with Brazilian legislation, which is just as rigorous as that of the US and Europe."