BP’s plan to deal with blowouts and spills near the Amazon Reef is unworkable, says Greenpeace

A baby caiman in the Amazon basin region.

BP’s oil spill response plan, a key part of the firm’s application to drill for oil near the Amazon Reef in the Amazon Mouth Basin in Brazil, relies on methods which are either untested or unusable in the area, according to a statement issued by Greenpeace on 14 August.

Capping a blowout in deep water requires the use of Remote Operated Vehicles, which may not be able to function in the strong currents in the Amazon Mouth basin. Furthermore, the chemical BP intend to use to disperse a spill, Corexit, has been shown to be highly damaging to coral, and the Brazilian environment agency, IBAMA, have told the oil company Total that they are not allowed to use it in the area.

Sara Ayech, oil campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said:
“From these documents, it appears that BP’s solution to a blowout in the area may not be possible to implement in these waters, and their solution to a spill is likely to damage the coral reef it is intended to protect, and is unlikely to be allowed. It would be incredibly reckless to license them to drill in this area under these circumstances. What we are risking –a new, largely unexplored and apparently biodiverse ecosystem – is far more valuable than whatever oil BP might be able to extract.”

BP controls a block in the Amazon Mouth basin, and intends to drill in August 2018. The company’s environmental impact assessment (EIA), submitted to the Brazilian authorities for the project states it will use Corexit 9500 to clean up potential spills.

● Corexit is a chemical dispersant which was used extensively during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, when 11 workers died and roughly 200 million gallons of crude oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.
● In 2013, scientists found that the chemical had a negative impact on coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.
● Researchers from Mote Marine Laboratory found that the chemical made the coral less likely to survive, with the chance of death increasing according to the level of concentration the organisms were exposed to.
● Even at low levels of concentration the scientists found that some coral had significantly lowered survival rates.
● The branch of the Brazilian environment ministry, IBAMA, in charge of regulating oil drilling in the Amazon Mouth Basin has prohibited French company Total from using Corexit in the event of an oil spill, citing the damage it could cause the reef. Link: http://www.mma.gov.br/port/conama/legiabre.cfm?codlegi=718

BP’s plans are also dependent on the use of ROVs to cap a blowout in the deep water where they would be drilling.

● Both BP and Total’s plans to clean up a potential oil spill in the area have been further cast into doubt by a study which found that remote operated vehicles (ROVs) would struggle to operate in the Amazon Mouth Basin.
● During the Deepwater Horizon disaster, ROV teams worked non-stop to try and contain the spill, as this piece in National Geographic from 2010 explains.
● But a technical paper prepared for the Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2014 casts doubt on the ability of oil companies to use existing ROVs to clean up an oil spill in the Amazon Mouth Basin. The report, which you can read a summary of here and which was led by engineer David Frantantoni, suggests that is it uncertain whether ROVs and other vehicles could operate in the intense currents found in the Amazon Mouth Basin.
● A section reads: “Opportunities exist to apply recent technological innovations such as high-endurance autonomous underwater and surface vehicles. However, the ability to effectively operate robotic vehicles in a western boundary current regime such as the NBC has yet to be demonstrated.”

Earlier this year, Greenpeace launched a campaign to protect and explore the Amazon Reef, working with a team of researchers to produce the first underwater images of the ecosystem. More than one million people around the world have already pledged to defend the reef, demanding that Total and BP drop their plans to drill nearby.

IBAMA are due to make a decision on whether to license Total and BP’s exploration projects in the coming weeks.