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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 April 2006, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
Brazil meets oil needs with rig
By Steve Kingstone
BBC News, Sao Paulo

The P-50 rig
Brazil now expects to become a net oil exporter
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has opened a vast new oil rig which will enable the country to be self-sufficient in oil production.

Costing more than $600 million (337m), the platform will generate 180,000 barrels a day.

The total amount of oil produced by Brazil now exceeds the amount consumed by its people.

In the past, South America's largest country had been painfully dependent on imported oil.

Friday's opening of the rig was greeted with some patriotic fanfare.

For decades Brazil relied on other countries to supply it with oil - a dependency that proved disastrous during the two oil shocks of the 1970s.

Then, as prices soared, the Brazilian government had to borrow heavily to meet its energy needs, triggering a destructive cycle of debt and inflation.

Proud moment

Against that backdrop, Friday's opening of the rig off the coast of Rio de Janeiro is being seen as a major step forward in the nation's development.
Lula with oil-drenched hands aboard the P-50 rig
It's an extraordinary achievement, a privilege only a few countries have
President Lula

Dressed in orange overalls, Lula personally flipped the switch to start production.

As the flow began, the president gleefully drenched his hands in Brazilian oil.

The state-controlled energy company, Petrobras, says the new rig will increase national production to 1.9m barrels of oil a day - slightly more than the quantity Brazil consumes.

Self-sufficiency is quite an achievement for a country that only discovered off-shore oil 30 years ago.

And with global prices on Friday hitting $75 a barrel, it has come at an opportune moment.

"It's an extraordinary achievement, a privilege only a few countries have," Lula said.

Looking ahead, Brazil now hopes to become a net exporter of oil, taking advantage of deep-sea drilling technology that is considered some of the best in the world.

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