Petrobras is a Brazilian petroleum company, semi-public, and one of the largest companies in the world. Petrobras America Inc. is the U.S. division of this huge company that until 1997 was the only oil company in Brazil. When the monopoly ended, the company still remained one of the largest in the world and the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. Petrobras has its headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.
Although it is headquartered in South America, Petrobras has global reach with operations all over the world from Japan and China to West Africa and the U.S. The company has more than 100 offshore production platforms, thousands of miles of pipelines, and 15 refineries. Most of the operations in recovering petroleum occur offshore in deep and ultra-deep waters. This makes the business of working for Petrobras necessarily risky and dangerous.
Petrobras began in 1953 and at the time the Brazilian government gave it a legal monopoly over oil recover and production. Output at the time the company formed was pretty small for Brazil at just 2,700 barrels a day. That has changed drastically over the decades and now Petrobras produces nearly three million barrels of oil every day.
In the 1970s Petrobras nearly went under because of the oil crisis, but bounced back with the 1974 discovery of a major oil field at the Campos Basin. In 1994 the company installed what was at the time the world’s largest oil platform. It sank in 2001 after a huge explosion. In 1997 Petrobras lost its monopoly as the government allowed competitors to come into Brazil’s oil fields.
Petrobras America Inc. is the U.S. division of the company and it operates nearly autonomously from the parent company. It was founded in 1987 and is headquartered in Houston, Texas. Petrobras America devotes much of its resources and time to cultivating oil fields and wells in the Gulf of Mexico, a location that has been home to too many accidents, injuries, worker deaths, and oil spills.
Petrobras Operations and Projects
Petrobras has had a long history over which to develop a number of operations and projects, beginning with the exploration and recovery of petroleum. This is one of its major types of operations and the company searches for and produces both crude oil and natural gas. Brazil is rich in gas and oil, so much of what the company produces comes right from its home country. However, Petrobras also has operations in Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Japan, Nigeria, Gabon, Namibia, and the U.S. in the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to exploration and production, Petrobras is involved in refining natural gas and petroleum, in transporting crude resources and refined products, and in distributing them through wholesalers. One division of the company is responsible for natural gas trading and generating electricity and fertilizer. Biofuels are also important to Petrobras and the company has one division devoted to producing biodiesel, ethanol, and sugar.
Maritime oil and gas companies like Petrobras face many challenges, including leaks and spills. Because of the huge output of their wells and refineries, spills can quickly become major environmental disasters that harm ecosystems, people, animals, and local economies. From the 1970s through the present, Petrobras has caused a number of spills, mostly in Brazil. These include a six-million liter spill in Gauanabara Bay in 1975 as well as another spill into the same bay in 2000.
This later, 2000 spill was considered one of the worst to occur in the region ever. Several hundred thousand gallons of crude oil leaked out of a broken pipeline and polluted beaches and delicate ecosystems. The government of Brazil immediately blamed Petrobras and called its pipelines old and poorly maintained. It was a huge ecological disaster and also hurt tourism as the oil covered some of the country’s most famous beaches.
Worker Accidents, Injuries, and Deaths
Oil spills are terrible, and all too common, and yet the worst incidents that maritime oil and gas companies like Petrobras face are those that injure and kill workers. Platforms and the ships and equipment that serve them are complicated, large, and dangerous. Workers have to be highly skilled to operate them, and even then, nearly anything can go wrong and cause a disastrous accident that injures and even kills people.
One of Petrobras’s worst accidents was the eventual sinking of P-36, the world’s largest oil platform. The platform produced 80,000 barrels of oil every day before it sank on March 20, 2001. The incident started on March 15 when two explosions rocked the platform. An overpressure event triggered the first explosion while the second was cause by the leaking and ignition of hydrocarbon vapors. A third explosion finished off the platform, which took a few days to sink. The initial explosions killed ten of the more than 100 workers on the platform.
Not all incidents are as tragic as the P-36 explosions, but those that are minor and cause only injuries are much more common. One example of these occurred aboard a boat provided to transport a Petrobras America worker in a facility in Peru. The boat struck something and flipped in the water, trapping the worker underneath. He suffered from a concussion, broken teeth, and other injuries.
Maritime Workers’ Rights
Petrobras has been found to be negligent in many of its incidents and has also been found to have more incidents than the average for the industry. From injuries to fatalities, companies that employ maritime workers have certain responsibilities for their safety and well-being. Although the industry is always dangerous and risky, companies must provide the most reasonable safety measures possible to prevent accidents, injuries, and deaths.
If you are a maritime worker in the dangerous offshore oil and gas industry, you put yourself at risk every day. You could be injured due to negligence, even if it seems like an accident. If you do, make sure you speak with a lawyer and take no steps to agree to any compensation until an experienced maritime legal professional has reviewed your case.