The Gulf of Mexico incident has led to the revision of operational safety and response strategies by the oil industry. Even countries with long tradition in E&P activity, as Norway and the United Kingdom, established working groups aiming the revision of their operational safety and response practices in case of significant oil spills. In Brazil, the environmental agencies are responsible for the definition of preparedness and response requirements to incidents involving oil spill; the definition of "Individual Emergency Plans" is part of the environmental licensing system. A proposal to create and put in effect a National Contingency Plan despite of being conceived as early as 2001 has not yet advanced in terms of duties and structure definitions. Notwithstanding the presence of 20 different companies operating in the offshore oil and gas E&P in Brazil, Petrobras, the former Brazilian State company is responsible for more than 90% of national oil production. Therefore, as expected, Petrobras has built its own response structure based mainly on nine "Centers of Environmental Defense" scattered along the country and also on agreements with international organizations (e.g. Clean Caribbean and Americas). As a consequence, on practical grounds Brazilian authorities have accepted these structures as a surrogate for a "de facto" national plan. However the Gulf incident showed that an "Incident Command Structure" was fundamental for an integrated response. Also, the adoption of a modular strategy to protect and recover coastline, based on the "Shoreline Clean-up and Assessment Team" (SCAT), similar to the "Intermunicipal Oil Spill Combat Groups" adopted in Norway, was an essential tool to address shoreline impact and reduce or eliminate unintended consequences. This paper intends to highlight the cultural and historical features that shaped the evolution of the Brazilian response system and suggests to integrate local teams, including governmental and non-governmental institutions and necessarily the affected communities as effective stakeholders in the future National Plan.


The recent incidents with Montara platform, in Australia, and Deepwater Horizon, in the Gulf of Mexico led to the questioning of current operational safety practices adopted by oil and gas industry in offshore operations.

The two incidents occurred eight months apart and had similar duration, respectively of 74 and 86 days, in Australia and Gulf of Mexico. In the first one the oil spill estimation varied from 30 to 150 thousand barrels of oil (1, 2), while in the second, total spill was of 4.9 million barrels of oil (3). Despite the similar duration of the two events, the Montara incident took place in water depth of only 80 m, while the Deepwater Horizon platform operated in deep waters (1,500 m), suggesting that the difficulties for containment were not only due to depth operations. Nevertheless, the Gulf incident, due to its dimensions, determined not only to a rush in procedures revision, but also to criticism concerning the very operational feasibility of deepwater E&P activities, as a result of risks and difficulties associated to oil containment and response.

In the United States, the incident determined a ban of offshore drilling activities offshore for three months and the definition of strict criteria for its suspension. The regulatory Agency, Minerals Management Service-MMS went for a thorough restructuration leading to a complete separation of resource management from safety oversight (4). Countries with long tradition in E&P activity established working groups aiming the revision of their operational safety and response practices in case of significant oil spills. For example, in UK, the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group - OSPRAG was established to identify and address emerging cross industry issues arising from the Gulf of Mexico incident (5).

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.