Brazil’s New Petrobras Chief Urges Acceleration of Oil Exploration

Magda Chambriard, the newly appointed chief executive of Brazil’s state-run oil giant, Petrobras, has called for an urgent acceleration of oil exploration, including in the controversial offshore basin near the mouth of the Amazon River.

Chambriard, a former regulator, took over the helm on Friday after left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva dismissed her predecessor.

In her inaugural press conference, Chambriard emphasized the necessity of exploring “new frontiers” to ensure the company’s survival, addressing a contentious issue that has divided the Lula administration and drawn ire from environmentalists.

“This company’s exploratory effort … has to be accelerated,” the 66-year-old Chambriard stated. “The focus is ensuring that Petrobras’ oil assets continue to grow. This means it is essential to continue exploring oil off the Brazilian coast. This includes the Equatorial Margin and the Amapa coast,” she added.

The Equatorial Margin, located near the Amazon River’s mouth, is considered Brazil’s most promising area for oil exploration, with studies indicating it holds substantial crude deposits.

This basin is near regions in Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname, which have recently reported significant oil discoveries.

However, environmentalists caution against the potentially devastating impacts on the ecologically sensitive region.

The project has sparked a battle within the Lula administration, and last May, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, IBAMA, denied Petrobras an exploration license.

Environmental groups have long opposed crude oil exploration in the area where the Amazon meets the Atlantic Ocean, citing risks to a freshwater barrier reef discovered there in 2016.

Despite these concerns, Chambriard noted that the energy ministry of the world’s seventh-largest oil-producing country “would love to drill” in this area.

“We need to have authorization to explore. We will have to talk to the Ministry of the Environment and show what Petrobras is offering in terms of environmental care, much more than what the law demands,” Chambriard said.

She also mentioned that Brazil’s deepwater oil deposits, which have been exploited for the past 15 years, are expected to reach their peak by 2030. “We have to be careful with reserves, and imports are out of the question,” she warned.

Chambriard’s appointment follows the dismissal of her predecessor, Jean Paul Prates, earlier this month after a dispute between Petrobras and its shareholders over dividend payments.

She is the sixth CEO of Petrobras in less than three years, succeeding a period marked by a major corruption scandal in the 2010s.

As Chambriard takes on her new role, the future of Petrobras’ oil exploration efforts remains a critical and contentious issue, balancing economic growth with environmental preservation.

Jessica Bayley

Jessica Bayley is an international author and journalist. She covers global affairs, hard news, lifestyle, politics, technology and is also the author of "The Ladies of Belgium."