Petrobras 36

Petrobras 36


Brazil’s Largest Oil Company Loses its Largest Oil Rig

In March 2001, the world watched in stunned amazement as the biggest oil rig in operation at the time disappeared beneath the waves of the Campos basin, about eighty miles off the coast of Brazil. Owned by Petrobras, Brazil’s largest oil company, the Petrobras 36 oil platform had only been in operation since May 2000 when a series of equipment failures lead to several detonations, which eventually damaged the platform so severely that it sank. Sadly eleven oil workers were killed in the course of the disaster, as well as an estimated 274 tonnes of oil being released into the ocean.

A Combination of Factors Lead to Collapse

Sources indicate that for some reason the starboard emergency drainage tank on the platform broke, resulting in large amounts of inflammable gas saturated water and oil pouring into the aft starboard column, which meant it began to lean. A further explosion caused more destruction to the column, allowing sea water to enter it, which caused greater leaning and contributed to the instability of the platform. Despite vigorous efforts from support teams to stabilise the platform, bad weather and a challenging environment rendered these measures ineffective, ultimately resulting in the entire platform capsizing and sinking completely.

Floating Barriers and Oil Dispersing Chemicals

Petrogras made significant attempts to control the oil slick which had come from the stricken platform, including the use of floating barriers and oil-dispersing chemicals. It is difficult to assess how effective these measures were, as deep water makes finding a slick, corralling it and subsequently dissipating it a hard task to complete successfully. Although the spill did not occur in an ecologically vulnerable part of the sea and was not a particularly large one in comparison with others, conservationists were concerned that it would adversely affect sea birds such as the spectacled petrol and the Atlantic yellow-nosed Albatross, as well as other marine life.