2019 Northeast Brazil oil spill

The oil spill in northeastern Brazil is an ongoing spill of crude oil that has affected Brazilian jurisdictional waters and over 2,250 km (1,400 mi) of coastline in northeastern Brazil. The spill was first reported on 30 August 2019. The origin of the oil spill is unconfirmed but stated to not be Brazilian. By the end of October 2019, over 1,000 tonnes had been cleaned up; the spill had contaminated portions of all nine states of Brazil's Northeast Region.

2019 Northeast Brazil oil spill
2019 Northeast Brazil oil spill.png
Oil spots on a beach in northeastern Brazil
LocationNortheastern Brazil Coastline
Date30 August 2019 — present
Volume> 1,000 tonnes[1]
Shoreline impactedNortheast Brazil

It is the worst oil spill in Brazilian history[1] and the largest environmental disaster ever recorded on the Brazilian coast.[2]


With circumstances still under investigation, the first reports of the spill were made on 2 September 2019.[3][4]

The amount of oil currently affecting Brazil from the spill has been described as "thousands of barrels".[5] The origin of the oil spill, of a type not produced in Brazil, is still unconfirmed but a Greek-flagged ship, the NM Bouboulina, belonging to Delta Tankers Ltd is suspected.[6] Investigations by the Brazilian Navy and Petrobras found chemical links with Venezuelan oil, but that does not necessarily mean Venezuela is responsible.[7] The Venezuelan government denied responsibility for the disaster and said that their country's only oil company, the state-run PDVSA, had not received any reports from clients or subsidiaries about any oil spills near Brazil.[8] The chemical tests also determined that the oil was all from one source. Several barrels have washed up on beaches.[4] Prior to testing, the Navy had asked 30 tankers from ten different countries that passed by the Brazilian coast if they had spilled any oil.[9]

The Brazilian government has been unable to map the oil slicks.[10] The oil is floating beneath the surface of the ocean and thus difficult to trace and predict;[5] this also means that floating oil barriers had little to no effect.[11]

Spread and clean-upEdit

As of 23 October, contamination had reached more than 200 localities[3] from the nine states of Northeast Brazil.[12] More than 1,000 tonnes of oil have already been collected from beaches along the 2,250 km (1,400 mi) of coastline affected.[1]

According to the Ministry of Defense, about 5,500 Navy, Army and Air Force personnel have been involved with cleaning the beaches of the Northeast, as have staff from the National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP), the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), and the National Secretariat of Protection and Civil Defense; thousands of volunteers have been working at the beaches, too.[13]

Within the state of Bahia a civilian group called Coast Guardians was started with volunteers to clean up the coast, gaining popularity online and crowdfunding money for protective clothing. The group has organized 20 different beach teams.[10] Staff from the local environment agency and some Naval officers helped two beach teams.[10] Civilians in various parts of the region have also built nets to place between the ocean and its tributaries to prevent contamination of the country's rivers.[11]


Oil-covered sea turtle

On 21 October, a team of oceanographers, chemists, and state officials visited the Todos os Santos Bay in Salvador, Bahia, to assess the impact of the oil's movement along the coast. At this point, the spill had left a toxic trail for thousands of miles and begun degrading mangroves and corals; this contamination is hard to clean and will remain in the environment for years.[3]

In addition to the risk to the ecosystem, there is the possibility for people to come into direct contact with contaminants that remain in the environment. Harmful levels of contact could happen just from walking on a beach where oil has been in the sea, involuntarily touching oil residue or inhaling the gases released.[3] There is substantial risk for Brazil's mangroves, corals, and marine life as a whole, which will take decades to mitigate, and to humans, as the chemicals can also cause irritation and allergic reactions, especially on the skin, eyes, and mouth.[14]

To alert the population, the Rio Grande do Norte Institute for Sustainable Development and Environment (Idema), including the TAMAR project, developed educational materials showing procedures that should be followed in case of contact with oil for both humans and animals.[14] The Tamar Project also reported that while adult turtles were being killed, the oil slicks at beaches also prevented the newly hatching baby turtles from reaching the sea, counting 800 rescued babies.[15]

The oil spill also hit some of the most frequented tourist beaches in the area, which received safety warnings from the tourism and fishing sectors by the end of October.[16]

Responses and protestsEdit

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been seen to respond passively to the disaster, speaking publicly only to pass blame; he first reported Venezuela as the origin, then later asserted that environment campaigners caused the spill in order to stop the government signing more oil deals. He has also been criticized for not visiting the affected areas, and for passing the disaster management to the wider government, with the Vice President making relevant announcements.[10] The Brazilian senate environment committee has criticized the executive for not declaring a climate emergency; in April 2019, Bolsonaro had also closed two committees that were part of the national contingency plans for dealing with oil spills.[10] In late October, Bolsonaro responded to a statement by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles by blaming Greenpeace for the spill, calling it a "terrorist act".[17]

On 22 October 2019, a group of fishermen protested in front of Ibama headquarters in Salvador.[18] Football teams in Brazil found creative ways to protest government inaction regarding the oil spill: in one match, one team wore custom shirts with black patches over their team design, while the other wore black gloves.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Thousands of troops deployed by Brazil amid fury at worst oil spill in country's history". The Independent. 25 October 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  2. ^ "Vazamento de óleo no litoral do Nordeste é o maior do país, diz Procuradoria". Estadão. 18 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d "Danos do óleo no litoral do Nordeste vão durar décadas, dizem oceanógrafos". BBC Brasil. 21 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Mysterious oil spill hits dozens of Brazil beaches". BBC News. 27 September 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Brazil's Oil Spill Is a Mystery, so Scientists Try Oil Forensics". Eos. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  6. ^ "Brazil Authorities Zero In on Ship Suspected of Oil Spill". The New York Times. 1 November 2019. Retrieved 2 November 2019.
  7. ^ "Brazil says oil on beaches is Venezuelan, but the culprit may not be". Reuters. 17 October 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  8. ^ "Venezuela denies responsibility for oil spills on Brazil beaches". Reuters. 10 October 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  9. ^ "Marinha notifica dez países sobre vazamento de óleo no mar nordestino". Correio do Povo. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e Phillips, Dom (22 October 2019). "Brazilians rally to clean beaches amid outrage at Bolsonaro's oil spill inaction". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Clean-up on Brazil beaches amid oil spill mystery". BBC News. 20 October 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  12. ^ "Ibama cobra explicações da Shell sobre barris encontrados no litoral do Nordeste". noticias.uol.com.br. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  13. ^ "Exército reforça limpeza de praias atingidas por óleo no litoral pernambucano". G1. 22 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  14. ^ a b "Entenda o vazamento de petróleo nas praias do Nordeste". Estadão. 27 September 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  15. ^ "Oil Is Killing Brazil's Turtles. No One Knows Where It's From". Time. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  16. ^ "O pesadelo ambiental do Nordeste ameaça pescadores e PIB do turismo". El País. 24 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  17. ^ CartaCapital, Redação (25 October 2019). "Bolsonaro culpa Greenpeace pelo óleo vazado e chama a ONG de terrorista". CartaCapital (in Portuguese). Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  18. ^ "Em protesto, grupo de pescadores invade sede do Ibama em Salvador". Correio Braziliense. 22 October 2019. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  19. ^ Williams, Nicholas; TNT, Source; Interativo, Esporte (23 October 2019). "Brazilian footballers protest oil spill with custom-made shirts and gloves – video report". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 October 2019.

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