Author: Constance Malleret
Publish date: 2023-05-23 13:29:11
Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister, on Monday threw a jab at the government over the stance of some members who are pushing for offshore oil drilling in the Equatorial Margin, an ecologically-sensitive area off the northern and northeastern coast of Brazil that spans the mouth of the Amazon River.
Last week, the environmental protection agency Ibama denied state-controlled oil company Petrobras a license to drill a first well in the area. Ibama cited “worrying inconsistencies” in Petrobras’ studies assuring that oil exploration activities would be environmentally safe.
The decision represented a win for Minister Silva — but it was not well received by those who see an opportunity for economic development in this new oil frontier. Petrobras president Jean Paul Prates said that “a golden opportunity was being lost.” The oil giant has said it will appeal the decision.
Ibama’s veto was even criticized by Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, the government’s whip in Congress and formerly a member of Ms. Silva’s Rede Sustentabilidade party. Senator Rodrigues represents the north-eastern state of Amapá, which would stand to benefit economically from the oil exploration plans. He announced he was leaving Rede, a green party, following Ibama’s decision last Thursday.
Ms. Silva made a veiled jab at her colleagues on Monday. “There is a big contradiction in saying that you love the Creator while disrespecting his creation. In saying that you love the Creator while destroying his creation. […] You can cultivate, use, but [you must] save, protect,” she said during an event organized by Brazil’s National Confederation of Catholic Bishops.
The issue is threatening to cause a serious rift within the government — and bring into question President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s environmental commitments. His adoption of an ambitious green agenda was the condition for Ms. Silva, a respected environmentalist, to back Lula’s bid last year and join his government. There is a risk that failure to stand by these promises could lead her to break with the government, as she did in 2008.
President Lula himself has suggested the oil drilling plans could go ahead. “Should the exploration of oil cause problems for the Amazon, then it will certainly not be exploited. But I find that difficult, as [the well] is located 530 kilometers from the Amazon,” the president said from Japan, where he was attending the G7 summit. The government is now seeking a way out of this impasse, with Ms. Silva and her counterpart at the head of the Mines and Energy Ministry, Alexandre Silveira, due to discuss the issue at a meeting organized by the president’s chief of staff on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Prates and the head of Ibama, Rodrigo Augustinho, are also due to be present.