Petrobras boomtown turns desolate as refinery’s billions vanish

Sabrina Valle and Carlos Caminada – Yahoo Business, 05/04/2016

Located just 30 miles east of Rio de Janeiro’s bustling Copacabana beach, Itaborai looks like many oil boomtowns after the bust — except the deserted stores and empty glass towers that loom over this town of 220,000 speak of some bigger cataclysm than the collapse of crude prices.

“They said this would be the new oil city,” says Jefferson Costa, one of scores of migrants from Brazil’s impoverished north lured here by a multibillion-dollar petrochemical project that was supposed to create more than 100,000 jobs. Work on the complex, known as Comperj, has stopped, and unless new investors materialize, the single refinery now standing may never produce a single drop of fuel. “It’s empty inside,” says Costa, a plumber who lost his job six months ago when construction came to a halt. “People say it will become a large warehouse.”

Comperj has become a symbol of pervasive corruption at Brazil’s state-run oil producer, Petrobras. A sprawling investigation by federal police and prosecutors dubbed Operation Carwash has revealed massive graft, implicating construction conglomerates, banks, oil service providers, shipbuilders and politicians. About 2 percentage points of the 3.8 percent contraction in Brazil’s gross domestic product last year can be attributed to the effects of the scandal on the company and its suppliers, according to estimates from Tendencias, a consulting firm based in Sao Paulo.

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BHP Billiton investors sue in U.S. over Brazil dam disaster

Jonathan Stempel – Reuters, 02/25/2016

BHP Billiton Ltd was sued in the United States by investors who accused the Anglo-Australian mining company of fraudulently overstating its ability to manage safety risks prior to November’s fatal dam burst at a Brazilian mine it co-owned and operated.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, investors led by the Jackson County Employees’ Retirement System in Michigan said BHP inflated the price of its American depositary receipts by ignoring safety risks and overstating its commitment to safety before the disaster.

Four BHP officials were also sued, including Chief ExecutiveAndrew Mackenzie and Chairman Jac Nasser.

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Brazilian Studies Aim to Unravel Zika’s Link to Birth Defect

Julie Steenhuysen – Reuters, 02/09/2016

At Roberto Santos General Hospital in Salvador, Brazil, Dr. Antonio Almeida and a team of specialists are closely following two groups of women: Those who deliver babies with abnormally small heads and those who deliver apparently normal babies.

The hospital is one of three in this city on Brazil’s eastern coast where investigators are studying the most urgent question of the Zika outbreak: Is the virus causing a spike in birth defects, and, if so, how great is the risk?

The answer will help shape the response to the rapid spread of Zika throughout the Americas. Concerns over the potential link to microcephaly have prompted a U.S. alert advising pregnant women against travel to 31 countries and territories with outbreaks.

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Health Officials Want More Zika Samples, Data From Brazil

The New York Times/AP, 02/04/2016

Brazil is not sharing enough samples and disease data to let researchers determine whether the Zika virus is, as feared, linked to the increased number of babies born with abnormally small heads in the South American country, U.N. and U.S. health officials say.

Without viruses from Brazil — the epicenter of the ongoing Zika crisis — laboratories in the United States and Europe are being forced to work with samples from previous outbreaks, and is frustrating efforts to develop diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines. Scientists tell The Associated Press that having so little to work with is hampering their ability to track the virus’ evolution.

One major problem appears to be Brazilian law. At the moment, it is technically illegal for Brazilian researchers and institutes to share genetic material, including blood samples containing Zika and other viruses.

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Brazil’s Congress reconvenes, mired in pessimism

Silvio Cascione -Reuters, 02/02/16

Brazilian lawmakers return from their annual recess today with an overwhelming list of work to do as the country sinks into a broadening political, economic and health crisis.

And yet expectations about their actual capacity to make 2016 a better year than 2015 could hardly be smaller.

While there is little consensus on the measures needed to fix Brazil’s budget, deputies and senators are set to spend much of their political energy this year arguing about if and how President Dilma Rousseff should be impeached – and a whole new program of economic reforms could be started from scratch.

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Brazil Alleges Environmental Crimes in Response to Fundão Dam Collapse

Paul Kiernan – The Wall Street Journal, 01/14/2016

Brazil’s Federal Police have accused seven people and three companies, including mining giant Vale SA and its joint-venture Samarco Mineração SA, of environmental crimes in response to a major dam collapse in November.

The move, which has no exact equivalent in the U.S. legal system, will trigger the beginning of a deeper investigation by police. It typically represents a step toward formal charges, which in Brazil can only be filed by prosecutors, often after police have presented their findings.

The accusations mark the latest response by Brazilian authorities to what some have called the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster. On Nov. 5, Samarco’s Fundão tailings dam suddenly collapsed, releasing a flood of sludge that buried rural villages, killed 19 people and polluted more than 400 miles of the Rio Doce basin.

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How Brazil can emerge as a climate leader

Viviane Romeiro and Rachel Biderman – WRI, 9/21/2015

Brazil, the world’s seventh-biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has the relevant tools and policies it needs to become a leader in the fight to deal with climate change. This opportunity comes at a pivotal time for Brazil: its national climate plan—its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)—should be submitted within days as part of global climate negotiations, while a national economic crisis, drought and energy uncertainty inform Brazil’s decisions at home.

A new WRI report, Bridging the Gap Between Energy and Climate Policies in Brazil, finds that Brazil could act to change its energy mix and move toward a lower-carbon economy, but it needs to strengthen existing policies to amplify their impact to join other key climate players including China, the United States and Mexico.

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