Brazilian Police Seek to Charge Chevron in Oil Spill; Execs Could Face 14 Years in Prison

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When Chevron caused a major oil spill off the coast of Brazil last month, it responded in the manner we've come to expect from giant oil companies: It lied through its teeth. Chevron claimed at first that the spill wasn't really a spill at all--it was merely "natural seepage". But when independent sources revealed that some 3,700 barrels of oil were being loosed from the offshore drilling site a day, and the spill persisted, it was forced to change its tune.

After fessing up and taking responsibility, Chevron tried to plug the well with cement. Unfortunately, the oil giant recently admitted that they've failed to stop the leak, and are unsure how and when they might be able to do so.

However, the deception and half-measures may not be without consequences. Mat reported early on that Brazil's federal police department had opened a criminal investigation into Chevron's actions. Along with failing to provide authorities with information about the spill, the company had allegedly been drilling deeper than was legally allowed. And now it looks like Chevron may indeed be charged with criminal wrongdoing.

The Globe and Mail reports that "Federal police have concluded their probe into an oil spill off the Brazilian coast last month and are recommending prosecutors charge oil companies Chevron and Transocean with crimes against the environment, a top official said Thursday."

This recommendation alone marks a huge departure from how such incidents are treated in the U.S. As you may recall, 11 people were killed in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, an accident that resulted from a shoddy cement job by Halliburton and a skirting of regulations by BP--and no federal body ever dared suggest that either company be held responsible. Not to mention the fact that the ecological damage was far more severe.

Yet, in Brazil, not months after the spill, we have this:

"Authorities also asked that charges be filed against 17 people for failing to provide information to the police, said Fabio Scliar, head of the Federal Police department's environmental affairs division. Among them is George Buck, chief operating officer for Chevron Corp.’s Brazilian division. If indicted and convicted, he and the others could face jail terms of up to 14 years each, Mr. Scliar said."
Remember the consequences BP faced in the U.S. for repeatedly lying about the size of the spill and denying that they had any good information about it--and were later revealed to have a high-def camera fixed on the spill site? Exactly: Nothing.

Though I doubt these execs will see anything close to this kind of jail time--Brazil has a burgeoning oil market, and it ultimately won't want to deter further investors by appearing too strict (such are the joys of global capitalism). Nonetheless, it's good to see the nation holding a law-breaking multinational's feet to the fire; with an offshore drilling boom incipient in Brazil's waters, the message that reckless behavior will have consequences needs to resonate loudly and clearly.

Tags: Brazil | Oil Spill