Petrobras Required to Assess Indigenous Impact of Amazon Offshore Drilling

© brefsc1993 / Adobe Stock
© brefsc1993 / Adobe Stock

Brazil's state-run oil firm Petrobras must do a series of studies on the impact on Indigenous groups in the Amazon area of planned offshore drilling nearby in order to analyze the project's viability, according to a federal agency and documents from government agencies.

The wide-ranging studies demanded by Brazil's environmental agency Ibama are meant to ascertain the "social, cultural and environmental" impacts on Indigenous peoples of drilling in the Foz do Amazonas basin, part of the so-called Equatorial Margin.

The demand for new studies were part of set of documents sent by Ibama to Petrobras on April 17, and seen by Reuters.

The requirement is a fresh hurdle in the firm's attempts to drill an exploratory well about 175 kilometers (110 miles) off Brazil's northernmost coast, amid increasingly stiff resistance from local Indigenous leaders in Amapa state.

All studies and requirements requested by Ibama within the scope of environmental licensing and in accordance with governing legislation were met by the company, said Petrobras in a statement, adding that it is open to incorporating new requests that may be necessary.

The company has said that drilling in the region would have "no direct impact" on Indigenous communities and argued that the time to require a formal consultation with them had passed.

Petrobras CEO Jean Paul Prates has said he expects to start drilling there this year still.

However, the additional studies are likely to take at least six months, according to a person close to Brazil's Indigenous affairs agency Funai.

That may further delay the plans to explore the Foz do Amazonas basin in the Atlantic Ocean, considered Brazil's most promising frontier for oil exploration because it shares geology with the coast of nearby Guyana, where Exxon is developing huge fields.

A year ago Ibama denied Petrobras a license to drill in the area, citing possible impacts on Indigenous groups and the sensitive coastal biome. Days later, Petrobras appealed the decision, and has been waiting since then for Ibama's response.

In October, Ibama asked Funai to weigh in on the matter before it decides on the appeal. Funai proposed in December that Ibama should require several more studies to assess impacts, according to a government memo.

On April 17, Ibama sent the memo to Petrobras, notifying the firm it must attend to it.

"Ibama's understanding is that Petrobras must meet these demands," the agency said in a statement to Reuters, adding that a final say on the appeal would be impossible without it.

Funai declined to give a timeline on how long the studies would take, adding that it depends on the schedule set by Petrobras and a consultancy hired for the studies, which will be submitted to the Indigenous peoples.

Funai's memo in December outlined requirements for a study to assess how the project would affect Indigenous communities and their customs, local flora and fauna and economic activity in the area, culminating in a "Viability Analysis."

Funai said that if the project is deemed "viable," the studies will be used to propose "measures to mitigate, control and compensate for impacts, if necessary."

Ibama's decision to require the study proposed by Funai is a win for the Council of Chieftains of the Indigenous People of Oiapoque (CCPIO), an umbrella group representing the 8,000 Indigenous people in the area.

Since 2022, CCPIO has cited impacts from Petrobras activities in the region on Indigenous communities, demanding a 13-month formal consultation regarding their views on the project.

CCPIO coordinator Cacique Edmilson Oliveira considers the regulatory decision a victory, he told Reuters by phone, adding the studies will provide Indigenous communities with a greater understanding about what's happening.

"I think it's important to have this data," said Oliveira. "We will not run the risk of suffering any harm."

He said the oil company will have to take into account the fact that coastal Indigenous lands could be threatened by drilling even though the plan is to search for oil offshore.

(Reuters - Reporting by Fabio Teixeira and Marta Nogueira; Editing by Brad Haynes and Alistair Bell)

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