The Wall Street Journal Brazilian Oil Slicks Likely Originated in Venezuela, Official Says

The Wall Street Journal . 23 . October . 2019

Brazilian Oil Slicks Likely Originated in Venezuela, Official Says

Tons of crude have been removed from several sites on coast

By

Luciana Magalhaes and 

Jeffrey T. Lewis

Updated Oct. 9, 2019 5:52 pm ET

SÃO PAULO—Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said Wednesday that the crude oil staining long stretches of Brazil’s northeastern coast “very probably” came from Venezuela, an assertion that could lead to even worse relations between the already hostile neighbors.

At least 138 spots in nine Brazilian states have been hit by oil slicks since early September, killing sea turtles and hurting other animals, and tons of crude have already been removed from the sites, according to Brazil’s environmental protection agency IBAMA.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Wednesday that a report by Brazilian oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, indicated that at least some of the oil came from Venezuela, though the company declined to confirm the report existed.

“All indications are that, as per the Petrobras report, the oil was spilled, accidentally or not, by a ship sailing close to the Brazilian coast,” Mr. Salles said during a congressional hearing.

Neither Petróleos de Venezuela SA, Venezuela’s main oil exporter, nor the country’s Ministry of Public Power for Ecosocialism and Water responded to a request by the Journal for comment.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been a fierce critic of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, calling the Venezuelan leader a usurper and backing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legal president of the country.

If the oil did indeed come from Venezuela, relations between the countries are likely to get even worse, according to Maristela Basso, an expert on international law and professor at the University of São Paulo.

“Relations were already bad. If on top of that we have evidence that the oil came from there, the relationship would be even more shaky,” she said, adding that any cooperation between the two countries to identify the source of the oil, or to clean up the damage would be extremely complicated by the bad blood between the two presidents.

Brazilian legal and military authorities are investigating the source of the oil, and IBAMA has said that chemical analysis of the black gook indicates it wasn’t pumped from Brazilian fields.

President Bolsonaro said Tuesday that there are indications the spill might have criminal origins.

“The volume hasn’t been consistent; if it were from a tanker that had sunk there would still be oil coming out,” Mr. Bolsonaro told reporters as he left the presidential residence in Brasília. “It looks like something was criminally released.”

—Ginette González in Caracas contributed to this article.

 

Write to Luciana Magalhaes at Luciana.Magalhaes@wsj.com and Jeffrey T. Lewis at jeffrey.lewis@wsj.com