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Brazilian judge bars Chevron, Transocean execs from leaving Brazil

A Brazilian judge has banned a group of employees from Chevron Corp. and Transocean Ltd. from leaving the country, which legal observers say suggests authorities are getting ready to file criminal charges regarding a seep last year from Frade field offshore Brazil.

Judge Vlamir Costa Magalhaes late Mar. 16 granted a travel ban at the request of a federal prosecutor for various executives. Executives reportedly were told to turn in their passports. Previously, federal prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit seeking about $11 billion in damages. Chevron has 51.74% interest in Frade field, which has been in production since 2009. Transocean is the drilling contractor.

The lawsuit concerns a November oil seep from an appraisal well at Frade oil field in 3,800 ft of water 370 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro in the Campos basin. Upon receiving approval from the Brazilian National Agency of Petroleum on Nov. 13, Chevron Brazil immediately began plugging and abandonment activities.

Chevron said the 2011 seep was stopped within 4 days, and the company continues to contain any residual oil (OGJ Online, Nov. 16, 2011).

Hours before the travel ban, Chevron acknowledged a new seep and oil sheen from the field where the earlier spill occurred, and Chevron said it wanted to study the “geological complexity” of the area (OGJ Online. Mar. 16, 2012).

Chevron Corp. subsidiary Chevron Brasil Upstream Frade Ltda. requested authorization from Brazil’s National Petroleum Agency (ANP) for a temporary suspension of production at Frade field as a precautionary measure.

During the weekend, Chevron sent reporters an e-mail statement that “any legal decision will be abided by the company and its employees.” Chevron also said it will defend the company and its employees.

Transocean said it had no comment.

A seep reported Mar. 16 resulted in a sheen that was estimated at 1 km or smaller. Chevron estimates the seep released much smaller amounts than the estimated 400-650 bbl leaked last year.

Chevron used mechanical dispersion on both sheens.

Partners in the field are Petroleo Brasileiro SA 30%, and Frade Japao Petroleo Ltda., a joint venture of Inpex Corp., Sojitz Corp., and Japan Oil, Gas & Metals Corp., 18.26%.

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