This is the update for today 3-20-2012: Australian oil execs barred from leaving Brazil . ‘‘We can confirm that the Federal Court of Brazil has banned 17 executives of Chevron and Transocean Brazil from leaving Brazil without legal authorisation while an investigation into an oil spill is underway,’’ an official with the Department of Foreign Affairs said.A federal judge in Rio de Janeiro state granted a request from prosecutors, who are pressing for charges against both firms, George Buck, who heads Chevron's Brazil unit, and the other 16 executives must turn in their passports to the police within 24 hours. Charges are expected to be filed on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.
A company statement from Chevron said neither Chevron nor any of its executives "have been formally notified of any action by the judiciary yet, any legal decision will be abided by the company and its employees. We will defend the company and its employees."
The court made its decision a day after the Brazilian navy spotted an oil sheen extending for about 0.6 mile in offshore field Frade, which was the site of Chevron’s oil spill last year. Chevron said in a statement it had halted production at Frade on Saturday after winning permission from Brazilian oil industry regulator Agência Nacional do Petroleo, (ANP).
Prosecutors want to press a criminal indictment of Buck and other executives from Chevron and Swiss-based offshore drilling company Transocean. It is up to a judge to decide whether to accept the charges and proceed with indictments.
Chevron's troubles in Brazil could force it to re-evaluate its Latin American strategies. Chevron's spill in November 2011 leaked approximately 3,000 barrels from sea-floor cracks resulting in an $11 billion civil lawsuit. Chevron is still facing an $18 billion environmental verdict in Ecuador.
Chevron has spent over $2 billion in Brazil developing the largest foreign-run oil field.
Chevron, made public on Thursday the request to suspend output at Frade, they said the plan was supported by its partners, Brazilian state oil company Petrobras and Frade Japan, which is owned by Japan's Inpex, Japanese trading house Sojitz and Japanese state oil and metals group JOGMEC. Chevron owns 52 percent of Frade and operates the field. Petrobras owns 30 percent and Frade Japan, 18 percent. The suspension will shut down a field with a production capacity of 80,000 barrels a day, over 3% of Brazil's oil output. "The decision to request the temporary shut-in of production is a precautionary measure," Chevron said in the statement. Chevron said on Thursday there was no evidence that the new leak and the one in November were in any way connected.
Cleveland Jones, a geologist at the state university of Rio de Janeiro, said in an interview natural oil leaks in the Campos Basin, home to the Frade field, are common place. He added that "until there is some proof, there is a good chance that this leak is a natural occurrence, not something to do with Chevron, leaks of this size are common, and are how people realized there was oil in the area in the first place."
The navy, the ANP and environmental protection agency Ibama will monitor and coordinate actions with Chevron to control the oil sheen.
Marcelo del Negri a federal prosecutor told an AP news agency, prosecutors will file charges including "environmental crimes" in a federal court next week.