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Prosecutor threatens BP and Total’s plans to drill near the Amazon Reef

The Federal Prosecutor of the State of Amapá has recommended the suspension of environmental licensing to BP and Total for their planned deep water drilling near the unique and vulnerable Amazon Reef biome.

2017 05 11 095232First images of the Amazon reef taken from a submarine launched from the MY Esperanza. The Greenpeace ship is currently in the region of the Amazon river mouth, Amapá State, for the “Defend the Amazon Reef” campaign. A team of experts are onboard, including some scientists of the group who discovered the coral reef at the mouth of the Amazon River. The launch of the submarine involved a large part of the ship's crew.

The prosecutor has intervened with IBAMA, the Brazilian environmental regulator responsible for issuing environmental licenses to operate, and will take legal action to suspend the licensing process if IBAMA rejects or fails to respond to their concerns within ten days. If IBAMA accepts the Prosecutor’s assessment, BP and Total will need to start a new Environmental Impact Assessment. The key issues the prosecutor has raised are the risks to the unique Amazon Reef which has not yet been adequately documented, and to the coastlines of neighbouring countries which could be exposed to an oil spill.

2017 05 11 093758According to the Prosecutor’s public statement, Total and BP "did not take into account the important ecosystem of the coral reef of the mouth of the Amazon River. Thus, exploration in an area close to [the reef system] corals, without adequate environmental impact study, can cause irreparable damage to this unique and little known biome."[1]

In response to the Prosecutor’s intervention, Greenpeace oil campaigner Sara Ayech said “BP and Total are proposing a technically challenging, risky deep water operation close to a unique and largely unexplored biome in an area with an unknown number of endangered species. As if that wasn’t reckless enough, the oil, if they find any, will just add to the enormous oversupply of fossil fuel we can’t afford to burn.

2017 05 11 093827“The Prosecutor’s concerns, on top of the flaws previously identified by IBAMA, highlight the fundamental failure of BP and Total to identify, let alone mitigate, the many serious risks posed by drilling in such a remote and sensitive location. BP and Total must cancel these dangerous projects before their negligence starts racking up victims.”

The Prosecutor also describes the international threat of drilling in the region, stating that the Federal  Prosecutor Office’s main objective in this case is “to prevent possible accidents and damages to the environment, besides avoiding a possible international conflict. Information from the exploration company itself confirms that a possible leak during oil activities can cause damage to the marine, physical and ecosystem environment, not only in Brazil, but also in neighbouring countries, especially the Caribbean region.”

This statement follows IBAMA’s recent decision to reject BP’s and Total’s oil spill modelling on the grounds that “it does not adequately represent the environmental variability of the region” and because  BP and Total failed to comply with previous requests for information. IBAMA also criticised the companies’ modelling as “statistically incoherent” in places.[2]

Earlier this year, Greenpeace launched a campaign to protect and explore the Amazon Reef - working with a team of researchers to produce the first underwater images of the ecosystem.[3] More than one million people around the world have already pledged to defend the reef, demanding that Total and BP drop their plans to drill nearby.  

[1] The entire Federal Prosecutor notes can be found here in Portuguese. Quotes are unofficial translations. http://www.mpf.mp.br/ap/atuacao/recomendacoes/recomendacoes-2017/recomendacao_18_2017_ibama_corais.pdf

[2] Quotes are unofficial translations of IBAMA technical note PAR. 02022.000055/2017-43 UAL/IBAMA

Subject: Analysis of Environmental Impact Assessment of Offshore Drilling Activity in Blocks FZA-M-57, 86, 88, 125 and 127, Amazon mouth basin - Review 01 Operator: Total E&P of Brazil LTDA (Process: 02022.000327/2014-62).  http://www.mpf.mp.br/ap/sala-de-imprensa/noticias-ap/mpf-ap-quer-a-suspensao-da-exploracao-de-petroleo-na-foz-do-rio-amazonas

[3] Additional documentation and the first ever underwater images of the Amazon Reef available here: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/2017/Greenpeace-captures-first-underwater-images-of-Amazon-Coral-Reef/