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Explosions start fire on Brazilian oil rig; at least 1 dead

The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (March 15, 2001 9:45 a.m. EST) - Two explosions rocked Brazil's largest offshore oil platform Thursday, setting off a fire that killed at least one worker and forced about 150 others to evacuate, state oil company Petrobras said.

At least nine other workers were missing after the blasts, Brazil's largest television network, TV Globo, reported.

"It was a very serious accident," Petrobras Chief Executive Henri Philippe Reichstul said in a TV interview from near the accident site at Macae, about 120 miles northeast of Rio. "There are more victims. We are still counting."

The explosions and fire practically ruined the rig in the huge Roncador oil field in the Campos Basin, which accounts for more than three-fourths of the roughly 1.3 million barrels Brazil produces daily. The rig is about 75 miles off Brazil's coast.

"We tried to fight the fire until the morning, and then the people decided to evacuate," Reichstul said. About 150 workers were taken to another oil rig 7 miles away.

Early Thursday, the rig was listing and still smoking but most of the fire was out, Reichstul said. Of the "six or seven" firefighting ships that battled the blaze, one remained pumping water on to the rig, he said.

There was no environmental damage from the accident, Reichstul said.

"There was no spill or anything," he said. "All the oil and gas wells were closed."

The oil rig, touted as the world's biggest, arrived in the Campos Basin a year ago and was not operating at full capacity, Reichstul said. The rig was capable of pumping and processing 150,000 barrels of oil a day but currently was operating with 80,000 barrels a day.

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 15, 2001



Thursday March 15 4:16 PM ET Blasts at World's Biggest Oil Rig Kill Up to 10

By Nicolas Garcia

MACAE, Brazil (Reuters) - Three powerful blasts rocked the world's biggest offshore oil platform, a 40-story rig owned by Brazil's state oil giant Petrobras, possibly killing up to 10 people on Thursday.

One person was killed and another nine were missing after three explosions ripped through the rig off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Petrobras said, the latest in a series of embarrassing accidents to plague Petrobras.

``As for the nine people missing, there is a very small chance that they will survive,'' Petrobras President Henri Philippe Reichstul said at a news conference in Macae, its headquarters for offshore operations in Rio.

Reichstul said the $350 million platform, the world's largest in terms of capacity, could yet sink.

``If the degree of listing increases we are going to lose the platform,'' he said, adding that the company would not know until Friday whether the rig would stabilize or sink.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blasts at the platform, located in the Roncador oil field 78 miles offshore in the Campos Basin, which produces more than three quarters of Brazil's crude oil.

Some 175 people were on the rig at the time of the first explosion, but survivors were transferred to a neighboring platform. A firefighting team of 25 people was left aboard.

The P-36 rig can produce up to 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day but after starting operations last year, it was only pumping out 80,000 bpd, or 5 percent of Brazil's output. All production was halted. Petrobras said it was poised to lose $50 million a month with the rig out of operation.

Petrobras Stock Hit

Blue-chip Petrobras stock tumbled 6.7 percent to 50.40 reais on Thursday.

``The company will have to substitute production with imported oil,'' said Catarina Pedrosa, an oil industry analyst at Bilbao Vizcaya brokerage.

The first explosion at the semi-submersible platform occurred shortly after midnight. Another, stronger blast hit 20 minutes later when firefighters had already started emergency works. It was followed by a third blast.

Judging from preliminary information, officials said, the blast occurred in one of the support columns.

The explosion was just the latest embarrassing incident at accident-prone Petrobras.

The United Oil Workers Federation (FUP) lashed out at Petrobras, accusing the company of putting its workers at risk through cost and personnel cuts. Some 81 workers have died in accidents over the last three years, union leaders said.

``It is a situation that shows an irresponsible average of two deaths a month,'' FUP leaders said in a statement, urging the country's 34,000 oil workers to join nationwide protests on Friday to demand better working conditions and safety.

In the last year and a half, 13 workers have been killed in 50 accidents in the Campos Basin alone, the union said.

Petrobras has also suffered from a series of highly publicized oil spills in the last couple of years, including an environmental disaster in Rio de Janeiro's picturesque bay. The company has announced heavy investments in safety and measures to protect the environment.

Campos Basin accounts for around 80 percent of Brazil's oil output. Petrobras lost its oil exploration monopoly in 1997, but remains the only company producing oil in Brazil. Foreign companies including Royal Dutch/Shell, Amerada Hess, Coastal Corp. and TotalFinaElf have all found initial signs of oil in exploratory wells in the country.

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 15, 2001.


Oil Rig Disaster Hits Brazil Economy

by PETER MUELLO Associated Press Writer

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- Explosions and fire ravaged Brazil's largest offshore oil rig Thursday, killing at least one worker, weakening the nation's currency and shaking its biggest company.

Three explosions shortly after midnight rocked the rig, which weighs 31.4 tons and is as tall as a 40-story building. It is sitting 75 miles off Brazil's southeastern Atlantic coast in the Campos Basin, which accounts for more than three-fourths of the 1.3 million barrels Brazil produces daily. It is 120 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro.

One worker was burned to death and another was hospitalized with severe burns over most of his body, said Petrobras, the state oil company. Ten others were missing.

While 12 ships battled the blaze, others ferried 151 of the 175 people aboard the rig to another platform 7.5 miles away, Petrobras said.

The explosions damaged a pillar that supports the platform, and Petrobras said there was a risk it could sink. By late Thursday the huge rig was listing at a 30 degree angle, and the company said it would wait for it to stabilize before bringing in ships to try and right it.

Petrobras Chief Executive Henri Philippe Reichstul said there was no environmental damage from the accident.

''There was no spill or anything,'' he said. ''All the oil and gas wells were closed.''

If the platform sinks, however, it could leak nearly 53,000 cubic feet of oil and diesel fuel into the sea, Petrobras said. The company said five ships with floating anti-oil barriers already are surrounding the rig to soak up any possible spillage.

The disaster sent Petrobras shares plummeting 6.8 percent on the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange and weakened the Brazilian real, already at a 24-month low. Currency traders said Brazil will have to import more oil to make up for the shortfall, which will hurt an already shaky trade balance.

Late Thursday, Brazil's Central Bank sold millions of dollars from its cash reserves to prop up the real after the currency fell below 2.10 to the dollar.

The P-36 rig was producing 84,000 barrels of oil and nearly 46 million cubic feet of gas a day, and its capacity was much higher. Petrobras finance director Ronnie Vaz Moreira said the loss of the rig will cost the company $50 million in lost revenue every month.

The disaster was also another black eye for Petrobras, which has come under fire for allegedly lax safety standards.

A study by the Oil Worker's Union of Northern Rio, cited on the Web site of the Estado news agency, showed that 32 people hired or subcontracted by Petrobras had died in 99 accidents over the past three years before Thursday's accident.

AP-NY-03-15-01 1822EST< 

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 15, 2001.

Brazil oil rig may sink in 48 hrs, Petrobras

Friday March 16, 2:51 PM EST RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, March 16 (Reuters) - The chances of saving the world's biggest offshore oil rig, hit by a series of blasts that apparently killed 10 people on Thursday, are diminishing and it may sink in 48 hours, the rig's Brazilian owners said on Friday.

The president of state oil company Petrobras (PETR4) Henri Philippe Reichstul also told reporters the accident had jeopardized Petrobras' oil production goals. If it sinks, the platform may cause an environmental disaster.

Analysts have said that the accident deprives the company, and Latin America's largest country, of at least five percent of this year's total daily output, now around 1.3 million barrels per day.

The P-36 platform in Campos basin -- Brazil's main oil base -- was put into operation only last year and it had been due to start producing 110,000 bpd this year. The rig's capacity is 180,000 bpd, which makes it the world's biggest platform.

Officials have said that for Petrobras, a month without P-36 means losses of $50 million n16560688&feed=reu&date=20010316&cat=INDUSTRY

-- Martin Thompson (, March 16, 2001.

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