November 4, 2019

As Brazil tries to recover from huge oil spill, ExxonMobil and Chevron bid to dig even more into the country’s oil reserve

Despite the devastating impacts on coastal communities, marine ecosystems and the climate, major fossil fuel corporations keep expanding oil drilling in Brazil – and profiting from it. 

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – As coastal communities from the Northeast of Brazil suffer the consequences of a huge oil spill, which is being considered one of the biggest environmental disasters in the history of the country, Exxonmobil and Chevron are about to engage in a new auction of huge offshore oil blocks in Brazil, on November 6th. 

Experts predict that this oil auction might become the world’s “priciest” ever. Oil corporations hope that the new blocks will generate from 6 to 15 billion barrels of crude oil, twice as much as Norway’s reserves, ignoring the current trends for oil demand and the evaporating social license for the industry. Polluting mega-corporations like Exxon are particularly interested in this auction because the presence of large reserves of oil in the regions to be explored has already been proven

Meanwhile, more than 60,000 artisanal fishermen and fisherwomen across the Northeast coast of Brazil are struggling to sell their catch because of the contamination of the marine life in the region by a thick, toxic oil. Most of these families depend on the fishery as their primary source of food and livelihood.

“The disaster we are witnessing could not better illustrate the complete neglect of these fossil fuel companies with the risks and damage that their activities cause to the lives of the poorest communities and the environment. In respect of the victims and due to governmental inability to contain the current spill, we demand the cancellation of the oil auction,” said Nicole Oliveira,’s Managing Director for Latin America.

The Northeast of Brazil is a region well-known for its paradisiac beaches and for being a hotspot of marine biodiversity, but it is also one of the poorest areas in the country.

In the first weeks of the spill, the Brazilian government tried to publicly deny the environmental and social crisis. Even after the scale became clear, the government did not put in place all of the institutional and financial resources it could have to contain the spread of the problem, according to several specialists interviewed by major Brazilian media outlets. Experts say that the effects on marine life and fishery might last for decades.

Touched by the images of animals such as marine turtles dying because of the oil and by the inaction of the authorities, hundreds of volunteers gathered by their own initiative to clean the beaches, even though they did not have the adequate protection equipment to perform this job. Because of the contact with the toxic substance, a number of them are now vulnerable to health problems such as vomiting, allergies or even a higher probability of cancer, in the case of prolonged exposure.

This dramatic situation generated a picture that shocked many in Brazil, on October 25: covered by a plastic sack, used as an improvised protection, a young boy who was trying to help in the cleaning of the beach where his mother works selling food for tourists leaves the sea with arms and hands covered by oil and a facial expression of tiredness and desolation.  

“The Brazilian government has not been able to properly address the consequences of this spillage, and there is no reason to believe that it will be prepared to avoid and mitigate any future accidents. Despite these facts that are as clear as an oil stain on a pristine beach, companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron are happily joining this new auction, literally at the same time that families covered in oil demand more protection”, stated Nicole Oliveira.

Three weeks ago, fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron participated in another auction of oil blocks in Brazil, which included the right of exploring oil in an area that, in case of spillage, could destroy the National Marine Park of Abrolhos, one of the most biodiverse sea areas of the southern hemisphere. Due to the pressure of environmental and local organizations, including, these companies did not dare to put a proposal for the blocks closer to the marine sanctuary and it was saved, at least for now.

Claudia Cristina Ferreira dos Santos is a local social justice activist from Bahia, one of the states affected by the spill, and coordinates a recently created mobilization group called SOS Abrolhos, which gathers more than 250 members of the communities affected or under risk of suffering harms because of the oil spill. They collected signatures to avoid the auction of the oil blocks near Abrolhos, in September, and now are pressuring Congress representatives to demand the end of the auctions.

“Many fishermen and fisherwomen are not eligible to receive the small compensations that the government will pay for the communities that had to stop fishing because of the spill. They simply do not know anymore how they are going to make a living”, she said.

“It makes me outraged to hear from the government and the companies that the oil drill will bring development to our region. We see the impacts of this activity to the families and ask ourselves ‘is this development?’. In a region of paradisiac beaches, why don’t they invest in boosting tourism and improving education to our children and workers, so that we can benefit from nature, instead of destroying it and harming those who live here?“ said Claudia.

From November 5th to 6th, and a number of local civil society organizations will hold protests in Rio de Janeiro, where the auction will happen, to oppose to oil extraction, demand respect for the rights of communities and draw attention to the global climate crisis.