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Brazil Says Oil Polluting Its Coast Probably Came From Venezuela

Peter Millard

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s efforts to uncover the origin of oil washing up on more than 130 beaches along its pristine northeastern coastline are pointing to Venezuela as the likely culprit.

Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles on Wednesday said that a report from Brazil’s state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA indicates that the oil originated from Venezuela, a country suffering an economic crisis after years of mismanagement and widespread corruption.

Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras said that molecular studies of the spilled oil show it wasn’t produced in Brazil or sold by the company, and didn’t confirm or deny the origin of the crude.

“This oil that is arriving, very probably is from Venezuela,” Salles told lawmakers during a hearing. “It is oil that comes from a foreign tanker navigating close to Brazil’s coast.”

Petrobras Chief Executive Officer Roberto Castello Branco said on Tuesday that about 500 barrels were spilled, which means it wasn’t simply from an oil tanker that was being cleaned. He said that it could have come from an oil tanker that sank, an accident when loading oil from one tanker to another, or from a criminal act.

The oil spill is putting Brazil back in the spotlight for environmental disasters. A surge in fires in the Amazon rainforest in August sparked an international backlash against President Jair Bolsonaro, a social conservative who supports developing natural resources in the Amazon. Two massive mining waste dams have collapsed since 2015, claiming hundreds of lives and polluting waterways in several states.

Brazil first started noticing the oil on Sept. 2 and began cleanup efforts and investigations into the cause, including a criminal probe by federal police, according to the Ibama environmental agency.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Millard in Rio de Janeiro at pmillard1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina Davis at tinadavis@bloomberg.net, Carlos Caminada, Reg Gale

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