Sustainable exploration is one of the hot topics in the Brazilian oil & gas industry in this moment, and this is partially due to the recent auctioning of the oil blocks in the equatorial margin.
The Brazilian equatorial margin was auctioned in the 11th bidding round by ANP in May 2013, coinciding with the introduction of stricter environmental licensing regulations. BP invested in the area by acquiring eight deep-water exploration blocks in the Pará-Maranhão basin while also expanding the Tropical ethanol production plant, which will double its capacity. In addition to that, OGPar (formerly OGX) has blocks in the Barreirinhas basin.
The Brazilian Environment Agency (Ibama) will now demand a specific preparedness and protection plan, which shall include fauna reintegration, together with an implementation strategy. Moreover, the simulation exercises will be mandatory during the pre-operational phase, and Ibama will require the emergency equipment to be in place prior to giving the licenses.
These new guidelines represent a larger demand for information by the operators. IBP has coordinated an extensive map of the entire Brazilian coast, and the companies involved in the project include Petrobras, BP and OGPar. Some of the information already collected by those companies will be accepted, while some data will have to be reviewed and/or complemented.
New requirements during the licensing phase
The licensing phase for the equatorial margin will require a lot of research due to the fact that the region is still little known. The hydrodynamic model of the region is likely more complex than what it is seen in other regions. For instance, the wind currents are strong all year long and the tide variation can reach up to six meters in the area known as Reentrâncias Maranhenses.
Initially, Ibama will collect information about the circulation of the marine currents and it will interpolate it into regional dimension. The next step will be to execute an oceanographic survey of the water column showing what the likely behavior of an oil spill would be. The work includes monitoring of submarine currents and deep-water temperature, which will help mapping the flow of oil and chemicals from the well to the surface.
The collection of data should be executed by a consortium in order to dissolve the costs. The operation will involve chartering of research boats and anchoring of five to six buoys for monitoring during up to three years. Furthermore, a new CONAMA resolution concerning the usage of dispersing agents is expected by the industry to be implemented early next year. The operators want this 3D survey to anticipate the demands by the new regulation.
Ibama understands that the 3D modelling still needs to be complemented by a consistent characterization database of the oil produced in the country. Norway already has a consolidated database, which serves as reference in many licensing processes in Brazil.
Challenges to the elaboration of an emergency plan
The emergency plans for the equatorial margin will have to count on a larger amount of floating vehicles (boats and barges) to transport oil spill control equipment due to the lack of (good) roads in most of Maranhão and Pará states. In regions where the oil spill can reach the coast in up to 60 hours, the operators will have to have their own equipment. An alternative would be using temporary bases in containers, easy to transport.
The only environmental bases in the region are Petrobras’ CDAs (Environmental Defense Centres) in São Luís (Maranhão state) and Belém (Pará state). However, Petrobras is not an operator in any of the offshore blocks auctioned in ANP’s 11th bidding round.
The logistical challenges also include adequate solutions for waste management and disposal. Class 1 waste has to be disposed in certified areas that are largely available in the region. Within this year, IBP will announce guidelines containing minimum requirements to be followed by the drilling waste management companies. The supplier will have to prove by documentation that the waste was truly burned or buried properly.
The information available today proves that an oil spill in the equatorial margin would reach the coast, and damaging the world’s largest mangrove line lies among the potential environmental risks. Ibama and IBP agreed to make a coastal fauna survey, to be executed within 2014 as an outspread of the coastline mapping.
Sources of information: Petrobras and Brasil Energia