Brazil oil spill may affect sensitive area

RIO DE JANEIRO — The oil that allegedly leaked from a Japanese-operated rig last week could affect an environmentally sensitive region in Rio de Janeiro, the state environment secretary said.

The 2,600 gallons of oil that leaked is much smaller than the nearly 3,000 barrels of oil that leaked from a Chevron well off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state in November.

But the official, Carlos Minc, told the Globo TV network that the oil has reached the Bonfim beach in Angra dos Reis, “a much more environmentally sensitive area that is a natural habitat for turtles, dolphins and other wildlife.”

Minc’s agency says the oil leaked from a ship-shaped rig operated by Modec, a Tokyo-based provider of floating production systems working for Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA., and Minc said Modec could be fined as much as $5.4 million.

The state’s environment department said in a statement it would determine the exact amount of the fine once it knows how much oil was spilled and what caused the leak.

The statement said the leak caused “two small oil stains of up to 656 feet wide.

Modec spokeswoman Claudia Bensimon said a “mixture of water and fuel oil” leaked from a ship during ballast operations near the Angra dos Reis shipyard. What caused the leak is still unclear.

She said the oil that reached the beach did not come from the rig “because it was not carrying any crude.”

The environment department’s press office said it had no immediate comment on Bensimon’s statement

On Nov.7, oil started leaking at the site of a Chevron appraisal well about 230 miles off the northeastern coast of Rio de Janeiro state.

Brazil’s Environment Ministry fined Chevron about $28 million, but has said the company could face further penalties. Chevron has not indicated if it will contest the fine in court, which it can do under Brazilian law.

Last week a federal prosecutor filed a $11 billion lawsuit against Chevron Corp.

Chevron has said the spill occurred because it underestimated the pressure in an underwater reservoir.

Brazil’s worst oil disaster was in 1975, when an oil tanker from Iraq dumped more than 8 million gallons of crude into the bay and caused Rio’s famous beaches to be closed for nearly three weeks.