Mysterious Oil Spill in Brazil Could be ‘Criminal’ and Foreign

Mysterious Oil Spill in Brazil Could be 'Criminal' and Foreign

A recent oil spill in Brazil is covering beaches, affecting wildlife, and causing a national concern—but it’s not Brazil’s. President Jair Bolsonaro told reporters that the oil spanning 100 beaches in Brazil is not of Brazilian origin, but that claim is being investigated.

Brazil’s newest environmental conundrum involves oil—a lot of it. Over 100 Brazilian beaches are being affected by some mysterious oil spill, and as officials do their best to clean up, the oil’s origin is being investigated.

Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, dismisses the idea of any Brazilian ties to the spill, saying it was not produced by or in Brazil. He calls it potentially illegal: “It could be something criminal, it could be an accidental spill, it could be a ship that sank. It is complex. We have on our radar screen a country that could be the origin of the oil.”

Reports state that molecular tests on samples of the crude oil show they are not from the state-run oil company, known as Petroleo Brasileiro or Petrobras. There are a number of different identifiers than can differentiate between different crude oils and fields including levels of sulfur, nitrogen, acidity, and viscosity.

According to one CNN article, Brazil’s environmental agency, Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), is ensuring that oil-slicked wildlife be treated and as much oil as possible is removed from the ground. Some 100 tons of oil sludge has already been collected, said Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles.

But it seems investigation and cleanup efforts are not moving fast enough. According to one Newsweek article,  the oil has already affected roughly 932 miles of coastline since September, which accounts for about 100 beaches and 46 cities. IBAMA is currently working to determine which resources are deemed contaminated and unsafe for humans.

No official word as to the origin of the oil has been released, but news magazine Época says Petrobras sent a report to IBAMA last week saying Venezuela may be responsible.

This is not Bolsonaro’s first head-to-head with environmentalists. Bolsonaro has been heavily criticized for his rollback of environmental policies and the ways he has addressed past environmental crises. Remember headlines about Brazilian’s burning Amazon Rainforest a couple weeks back? Reports suggest there have already been 87,000 forest fires in Brazil.

However, data from NASA satellites says 2019 has been the most active year for fires in the Amazon since 2019, and the patterns and locations of the fires are consistent with clearing land and agriculture effects. Bolsonaro has claimed that NGOs (non-profit organizations) started the blazes in retaliation over funding cuts. Other Brazilian officials have blamed increased drought for the fires, according to Al Jazeera.

The oil spill has caused glaring concerns for environmental officials, ignited more political animosity against Bolsonaro, and is now even affecting the country’s economy. According to a Phys.org article, one oceanographer at federal University of Rio Grande do Norte named Maria Christiana Araujo said Brazil “can already see that tourists don’t want to go to the beaches.” For some Brazilian towns and states, tourism is a massive part of their economy and revenue.

While reports say President Bolsonaro and his officials are working to fix the problem and identify the oil’s origin, many others say they are not acting fast enough. Oil is particularly harmful to many of Brazil’s aquatic ecosystems, and this disaster could mean years of slow recovery for the environment.

“It's fundamental that those responsible be identified and that they pay for the damage, environmental as well as economic. Without a firm reaction, this kind of episode could happen again," said biologist Mario Moscatelli.

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