- One day after the COP28 climate summit closed in Dubai, where Brazil’s president reinforced the need to slash greenhouse gas emissions, the country’s National Oil, Gas and Biofuels Agency (ANP) put up 602 oil and gas exploration blocks for auction, including 21 in the Amazon River Basin.
- The blocks violate state environmental guidelines and overlap with protected areas and Indigenous and Quilombola territories, according to an analysis by the Arayara International Institute.
- In the latest round of bidding, the agency sold 192 blocks out of the 602 on offer, including to well-known companies such as Chevron, Petrobras, BP and Shell. The precise locations of these purchased oil blocks is not yet clear.
- The ANP maintains that these auctions are important to avoid drops in production and provide cheap energy for the country and its clean energy transition.
On Wednesday, Brazil’s Oil, Gas and Biofuels Agency (ANP) put 602 new oil blocks up for auction, at least 21 of which are in the Amazon River Basin. This is the fourth bidding cycle — a system adopted in 2019 and carried out every year to grant corporations the ability to carry out oil and gas operations throughout the nation’s territory, on land and sea.
Fifteen protected areas, 22 Indigenous lands and five Quilombola territories may be affected by this year’s blocks on auction, according to an analysis by the Arayara International Institute, a civil society organization. Among the protected areas that may be impacted are the Oceanic Mountains in Fernando de Noronha, a UNESCO-classified highly productive oasis of marine life, and the Abrolhos region, which harbors the largest amount of marine biodiversity in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Rodolfo Saboia, director general of the ANP, said these new explorations are “a very important step to avoid drops in production at the beginning of the new decade,” during the opening of the auction on Dec. 13.
“The need to maintain national oil exploration could seem like a limitation — the energy transition is a reality we cannot escape from — but Brazil has one of the cleanest matrices in the world and it is very well placed to meet these challenges and reap the fruits derived from it,” he said. “The energy transition cannot be fulfilled immediately, and it will not be cheap,” referring to the costs associated with the establishment of new infrastructure for clean energy.
According to a statement from the ANP, the oil blocks are located across nine sedimentary basins, in Amazonas, Espírito Santo, Paraná, Pelotas, Potiguar, Recôncavo, Santos, Sergipe-Alagoas and Toucan. In the latest round of bidding, the agency sold 192 blocks out of the 602 on offer, including to well-known companies such as Chevron, Petrobras, BP and Shell. The precise locations of these purchased oil blocks is not yet clear.
Elysian, a new company created in August to compete in the auction, snapped up the most blocks, winning 122 of them, followed by Petrobras and Chevron. The government will receive nearly $102 million from these sales, mostly from contracts in areas in the deep-water Pelotas Basin along Brazil’s southern coast.
The oil and gas auction comes a day after the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, where Brazil’s president reinforced the country’s commitment to reduce emissions by 48% by 2025 and 53% by 2030, as well as achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Experts have pointed out the inherent contradictions between the potential emissions from these oil blocks and in President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s statements at the conference, as the country gears up to become one of the world’s largest oil producers.
“The auction is shameful in all respects, including the obvious inconsistency with Brazil’s statements at COP28,” Philip Fearnside, head researcher at the National Institute for Amazonian Research, told Mongabay. “The timing certainly shows the complete disconnect between the Lula administration’s discourse on the environment and the most consequential concrete actions the government is taking.”
During the sell-off, Saboia maintained that the events at play were only an apparent contradiction, and that an eventual shutdown of oil activity will make Brazil more dependent on other countries that will continue producing oil with more intense carbon footprints.
According to Fearnside, the impacts of oil extraction in Indigenous areas and areas with other traditional communities is often catastrophic in the event of an accident and can cause serious biodiversity risks, like deforestation, and threaten already endangered species. The potentially impacted Indigenous groups include the Sateré Mawé, Munduruku, Mura, Kahyana, Kaxuyana, Tunayana e Xokleng and the isolated peoples of Pitinga/Nhamunda-Mapuera, Rio Kaxpakuru and Igarapé Água Fria.
“In addition to the social and health impacts of contact with the workers in the oil projects, leaks and spills are common, affecting the fish and other resources that support the traditional people,” he told Mongabay.
In November 2016, an oil spill was detected in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon, affecting around 320 Indigenous peoples from nearby villages. Indigenous leaders reported the disappearance of fish and various health issues, including diarrhea, throughout the community.
The Institute said at least 94% of the 602 blocks on offer overlap or conflict with the ANP’s environmental guidelines or state environmental policy. According to its analysis, 5,617 residents of quilombo settlements may also be impacted, none of whom were consulted about these oil blocks. In an open letter, members of the Córrego de Ubaranas quilombo in Ceará said they were “surprised” to hear their territory was up for auction: “At no time was the community consulted about the negligence of the Brazilian state, which ignores laws protecting the Quilombola people.”
An ANP representative told Mongabay that “approval for the inclusion of blocks in the bidding rounds does not mean tacit approval for environmental licensing by the responsible bodies,” as this is carried out after the contracts are signed. “All activities that the concessionaires carry out in the areas will require a detailed environmental licensing process, which will be conducted by the competent environmental agency. It would not be possible to carry this out prior to the auction,” they said.
Mongabay reached out to Brazil’s federal environmental protection agency (IBAMA) and Indigenous affairs agency (Funai) for a comment but did not receive one by the the time of publication.
Vinicius Nora, manager of climate and oceans at the Arayara International Institute, told Mongabay some of the winning companies have “questionable climate portfolios” and “projects in the pipelines that violate basic socioenvironmental rights.”
In 2021, Chevron had 70 outstanding legal cases for environmental damage across 31 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and beyond. It owed $50.5 billion in fines, the largest payout to 30,000 plaintiffs in Ecuador where the oil damage by one of its subsidiaries was so severe it was known as the “Amazon Chernobyl.” Bolivia’s ministry of environment also accuses Petrobras of contaminating land and rivers in Bolivia.
None of the companies provided comments in response to Mongabay’s requests.
Up to 47,000 square kilometers (more than 18,000 square miles) of Indigenous lands and 21,910 Indigenous peoples could be affected, the fact sheet stated. “The implications are serious,” Nora said. “They are auctioning off entire traditional territories.”
Banner image: The Cape Orange National Park off the coast of Amapá state in the extreme northeast of Brazil. The region includes diverse biomes including mangroves, tropical forests and coral reefs in the mouth of the Amazon, the latter of which is especially threatened by recent advances in oil exploration. Image © Victor Moriyama/Greenpeace.
Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: A conversation with Cultural Survival’s Daisee Francour and The Oakland Institute’s Anuradha Mittal on the importance of securing Indigenous land rights within the context of a global push for land privatization. Listen here:
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