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Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Brazil battles oil spill threat

Brazil's second major oil spillage this year is causing serious environmental concern.

More than a million gallons (4m litres) of crude oil have leaked from a refinery owned by state-run oil company Petrobras into a river near the southern city of Curitibia.

Petrobras said a pipe ruptured on Sunday afternoon, spewing oil for up to two hours into the Iguacu River, 630km (390 miles) upstream from Iguacu falls, a major tourist attraction.


This is certainly the biggest environmental disaster ever in the history of our state

Eliana Sachim, Parana State Environment office
The company is to be fined $28m - the maximum allowed for environmental disasters.

Television pictures showed a completely blackened river winding through the countryside towards the borders with Paraguay and Argentina.

Local people said the stench of the oil was making it difficult to breathe.

Liability

Petrobas admitted the accident was "quite big".

Other reports say it was three times the size of as the oil spillage in Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara bay in January.

Oil spill
Beautiful but deadly - over 1 million gallons of oil spilled into Brazilian waters
The authorities say the bay could take more than 10 years to recover from that leak.

The spillage seriously damaged the bay's ecosystems and many plants in the mangrove swamps died.

Petrobras were fined $23m as a result of that incident.

"We cannot allow a company the size of Petrobras to get away with at least two serious accidents in less than a year," Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho said at the scene of the latest disaster.

Officials are concerned the spill may affect drinking water supplies in Curitibia, where more than a million people live.

"This is certainly the biggest environmental disaster ever in the history of our state," said Eliana Sachim of the Parana State Environment office.

She said an oil slick at least eight kilometres (5 miles) long had spread along the fast-flowing Iguacu River.

Brazilian oil spills
1974-Biggest spill 1.6m gallons in Guanabara Bay
Jan' 2000-0.3m gallons in Guanabara Bay
July 2000- 1m gallons in the Iguacu river

Petrobras spokesman Eduardo Teixeira Leite said emergency crews had set up more than 30 floating barriers to try to contain the spill and to vacuum the oil off the surface.

They have also been digging channels to try and divert the oil, but appear to have had only limited success.

Civil defence authorities have warned residents along the course of the river to take strict safety measures to prevent fires and the contamination of livestock.

It is thought the slick could reach the next important town, Uniao da Vitoria, in two days' time.

Poor maintenance

Petrobras has been expanding its activities to keep its competitive edge since the government ended the company's 46-year monopoly on oil exploration last year.

Iguacu Falls
Emergency barriers have been set up to protect the Iguacu Falls
Environmentalists say its pipelines are poorly maintained, and recent spills have damaged its public image.

Paul Horsman, spokesman for the pressure group Greenpeace, is sceptical about the company's ability to achieve a clean-up.

"You can try and contain it but you are not going to be able to recover anywhere near the four million litres that flowed out."

Environmental officials said the Iguacu Falls tourist attraction was "out of harms way."

"There's no chance it will reach Iguacu Falls before they contain it," said Luiz Antonio Motta Nunes de Melo, a representative of the Brazilian Environmental Institute in Parana state.

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See also:

27 Jan 00 | Americas
Grim report into oil spill
24 Jan 00 | Americas
Brazil fights tide of oil
20 Jan 00 | Americas
Brazil oil giant attacked over leak
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