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Chevron, Transocean Face Brazil Indictment Over Oil Leak

December 22, 2011, 11:33 AM EST

By Joe Carroll and Juan Pablo Spinetto

Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) — Chevron Corp., the operator of the Brazilian offshore well that triggered oil leaks, and rig owner Transocean Ltd. will defend executives threatened with criminal indictments in the South American nation.

Chevron learned that Brazil’s federal police intend to indict employees involved in the drilling that led to the Nov. 7 leaks from seafloor fissures near the $3.6 billion Frade development, Kurt Glaubitz, a spokesman for the San Ramon, California-based company, said in a statement late yesterday. Transocean, in a separate statement late yesterday, said it will “vigorously defend the company and its collaborators.”

Chevron, the second-largest U.S. energy company by market value, has been fined 50 million reais ($26.9 million) and ordered to halt all drilling and crude production off Brazil’s coast after discovering the leaks last month. Chevron estimated the volume of the seeps at 3,000 barrels during the eight days it took for the company to locate and halt the leaks.

Chevron and other offshore oil explorers are facing increased scrutiny of their drilling practices in the wake of BP Plc’s 2010 blowout of a well in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and led to the worst U.S. offshore crude spill.

In Brazil, the concerns have been compounded as the coastal city Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the Olympic Games two years later. Chevron’s Frade oil field is about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northeast of Rio in a region of the Atlantic Ocean known as the Campos Basin.

Employees Indicted

Chevron underestimated the amount of pressure at an oil deposit it was exploring, and crude leaked from the reservoir for about eight days, George Buck, president of Chevron’s Brazilian subsidiary, said on Nov. 20. Buck was among 17 Chevron and Transocean employees targeted for indictments, the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported yesterday. Glaubitz declined to identify the employees targeted for indictment. George wasn’t available to comment, the spokesman said.

Anthony Dovkants, a spokesman for Vernier, Switzerland- based Transocean, said in an e-mailed statement that the allegations were without merit.

Chevron rose 47 cents to $105.90 at 10:30 a.m. in New York trading. Transocean rose 1.3 percent to $40.39.

BP has booked more than $40 billion in losses related to last year’s Gulf disaster that sank Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig and spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude. The London-based oil producer also faces hundreds of lawsuits by fishermen, hoteliers and property owners in coastal areas where crude washed ashore.

Other Oil Spills

ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. oil company, said yesterday it’s taking responsibility for two oil spills in China’s Bohai Bay in June and is setting up compensation funds to support environmental research and affected communities.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s largest oil company, shut its 200,000 barrel-a-day Bonga field off Nigeria after a leak during a tanker loading caused what may be the country’s worst offshore spill in more than a decade. The Bonga deep-water discovery produces almost 10 percent of Nigeria’s crude.

Exxon Mobil Corp. of Irving, Texas, is the biggest U.S. energy company by market value.

–Editors: Jasmina Kelemen, Tina Davis

To contact the reporters on this story: Joe Carroll in Chicago at [email protected]; Juan Pablo Spinetto in Rio de Janeiro at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tina Davis at [email protected]

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