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Brazil's new Petrobras chief calls to speed up oil exploration

Brazilian oil and gas company Petrobras President Magda Chambriard gestures during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on May 27, 2024 (Pablo PORCIUNCULA)
Brazilian oil and gas company Petrobras President Magda Chambriard gestures during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on May 27, 2024 (Pablo PORCIUNCULA)

The new boss of Brazil's Petrobras said Monday it was crucial that the state-run company "accelerate" oil exploration, including in a controversial offshore basin near the mouth of the Amazon River.

Former regulator Magda Chambriard took over as chief executive of the oil giant on Friday, after left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sacked her predecessor.

In her first press conference, the 66-year-old said exploring "new frontiers" was key to the company's survival, touching on an issue which has divided the Lula administration and infuriated environmentalists.

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"This company's exploratory effort ... has to be accelerated," she said.

"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 said.

The Equatorial Margin is a basin near the mouth of the Amazon River, that is considered Brazil's most promising frontier for oil exploration, with studies suggesting it holds massive crude deposits.

It lies near regions in Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname that have recently made major oil discoveries.

However, environmentalists warn of potentially devastating impacts on the ecologically sensitive region.

The project has triggered a battle within the Lula administration and the environmental protection agency, IBAMA, denied Petrobras an exploration license in May last year.

Environmental groups have long opposed crude oil exploration projects in the area where the Amazon meets the Atlantic Ocean, warning that it could pose risks to a freshwater barrier reef discovered there in 2016.

Chambriard said 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," said Chambriard.

She said the deepwater deposits that Brazil has been exploiting for the past 15 years would reach their peak in 2030.

"We have to be careful with reserves, and imports are out of the question," she said.

Chambriard was appointed after her predecessor Jean Paul Prates was sacked earlier this month following a spat between Petrobras and shareholders over dividend payments.

She is the sixth CEO of the company in under three years, after a turbulent period that included a major corruption scandal in the 2010s.

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