Pipeline break pollutes River in Brazil

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Posted at 7:41 p.m. PDT Monday, July 17, 2000

Pipe leak pollutes River in Brazil RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- A refinery pipeline burst and dumped more than 1 million gallons of crude oil into a river in southern Brazil, officials said Monday.

Officials of the federal petroleum giant Petrobras said the leak began Sunday and dumped oil into the Iguacu River near the Getulio Vargas Refinery in Araucaria, some 435 miles southwest of Rio.

The Iguacu River flows through the national park of Iguacu Falls, one of the world's biggest water falls. The park lies hundreds of miles west of the spill and environmentalists said the concern is for several riverside cities near the spill site, which face widespread damage and contaminated water supplies.

Officials are concerned the spill may affect drinking water supplies in the capital, Curitiba, where more than 1 million people live.

``This is certainly the biggest environmental disaster ever in the history of our state,'' said Eliana Sachim of the Parana State Environmental Office.

Sachim said an oil slick at least five miles long had spread along the fast-flowing Iguacu River. She said the state would fine Petrobras $28 million, the maximum allowed for environmental problems.

Petrobras spokesman Eduardo Teixeira Leite said that emergency crews had set up more than 30 floating barriers to try to contain the spill and would try to vacuum the oil off the surface.

Petrobras is aggressively expanding its activities to keep its competitive edge since the government ended the company's 46-year monopoly on oil exploration last year. But environmentalists say the company's pipelines are poorly maintained, and recent spills have hurt its public image.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 17, 2000


Earlier there was a spill in one of the beautiful rain forest which devistated the area. If these spills continue in S. America, surely the environmentalist will take notice? Or is there a gag order?

-- Ruth Angell (bar@bpsinet.com), July 18, 2000.

WIRE:07/18/2000 01:32:00 ET Brazil Suffers Major Oil Spill in South

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil suffered one of its worst oil spills ever as more than 1 million gallons of crude leaked from a refinery into a river near the southern city of Curitiba, officials said. State-run oil company Petrobras (PETR4.SA) said a pipe broke on Sunday afternoon, spewing oil for up to two hours into the Barigui River, a tributary of the Iguacu River, 390 miles upstream from Iguacu Falls, a major tourist attraction.

Television images showed a completely blackened river winding through the countryside. Local residents told Globo TV that the stench of oil was making it difficult to breathe. Petrobras said the accident was "quite big," about three times the size of its last major accident in Rio de Janeiro"s Guanabara Bay in January but smaller than Brazil"s biggest spill, when roughly 1.6 million gallons were dumped into the same bay in 1974. "We cannot allow a company the size of Petrobras to get away with at least two serious accidents in less than a year," Environmental Minister Jose Sarney Filho told reporters on the scene. Petrobras president Henri Phillipe Reichstul said that the company is investigating the cause of the rupture in the 23-year-old pipeline and that a report would be published within 72 hours. "Petrobras will work transparently and correctly to combat the spill," Reichstul said after flying over the affected area.

GREENPEACE SKEPTICAL Petrobras set up eight retention barriers on Monday afternoon to try and contain the slick that had reached 6.3 miles. The company said that a cleanup should take about 10 days, but one environmentalist was skeptical. "You can"t clean this up in 10 days," said Paul Horsman, U.K.-based oil campaigner for Greenpeace International. "You can try and contain it but you are not going to be able to recover anywhere near the 4 million liters that flowed out." Parana state officials said the public did not appear to be in immediate danger and the drinking water supply was safe for the 1.5 million people in Curitiba, 250 miles south of Sao Paulo. Environmental officials said the Iguacu Falls tourist destination was out of harm"s way. "There"s no chance it will reach Iguacu Falls before they contain it," said Luiz Antonio Motta Nunes de Melo, a representative of the Brazilian Environmental Institute (Ibama) in Parana state. The state"s environmental agency fined Petrobras $28 million, the maximum permitted by federal law and the same fine handed down for the January accident. Environmentalists said that the spill is less dangerous than tanker accidents, which usually involve larger amounts of more toxic refined fuels. Petrobras shares fell on the news, dropping 1.4 percent by the close of trading in Sao Paulo, while the broad stock market gained 3 percent. While Petrobras shut down the broken pipeline, the refinery continued to function normally. The affected waterways are not navigable.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 18, 2000.

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