The CEO of Brazilian state-run oil giant Petrobras warned on Tuesday the recent oil spills washing up on beaches along more than 1,240 miles of Brazil’s coastline may be the worst environmental incident in the country’s history.
CEO Roberto Castello Branco made the remarks while addressing an event in Rio de Janeiro, pledging that his organization would continue to work with the Brazilian navy to mitigate the damage of the spill on the country’s coastlines.
“This spill is the biggest environmental attack suffered by our country, I believe, in our history,” he said. He added that the spill had been approached in a “politicized and ideologized” way, with “false narratives” of what could have been done. President Jair Bolsonaro has once again come under fire from environmentalists for his response to the spill.
“In reality, it was impossible to combat this at its source,” he explained. “Oil companies and Petrobras are prepared to combat oil spills once the source of the spill has been identified.”
The spill was first reported on September 2, 2019, as enormous oil slicks washed up on beaches across the country’s northeast. The local environmental organization Tamar described it as “the worst environmental tragedy” since its foundation in the 1980s.
The origin of the spill has not yet been confirmed, although Brazil’s Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles told a congressional committee this month that the oil “probably came from Venezuela.” Salles’s accusation was likely based on the fact that investigators found chemical links with Venezuelan oil, although this does not necessarily mean that they were responsible.
Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA), tightly controlled by Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime, vehemently rejected Salles’ “unfounded” claims, declaring that there was “no evidence of oil spills in Venezuela’s oil fields that could have caused damage to the marine ecosystem.”
Officials have cleaned up over 1,000 tonnes of oil so far, with the spill contaminating all nine states of Brazil’s Northeast Region. Thousands of people volunteered to take part in the huge clean-up operation to remove oil from the coast, with people using wheelbarrows, spades, and plastic gloves to remove the thick tar from the sand and water.
Thousands of volunteers showed up to help clean a massive oil spill on Brazil's northeastern beaches on Saturday.
The oil has been found at more than 200 locations along the coastline, but the source is still undetermined. pic.twitter.com/xnwXlOSScX
— Pattrn (@pattrn) October 21, 2019
On Tuesday, the head of the Brazilian Navy announced that it was preparing for the possibility the spill reaches one of the country’s largest coral reef systems.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Admiral Leonardo Puntel said three ships were already onsite at the reef two more arriving, and that a helicopter will be conducting flyovers in order to help spot any heavy crude. If it is spotted, they will deploy divers to help remove the masses of dense crude before they can contaminate the protected area.