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How Brazil Is Making an Example of Chevron

After an oil spill, Brazil has Chevron in its sights. Inside the fight surrounding some of the biggest untapped oil reserves in the world

Last Nov. 7 something went wrong at a deep-sea oil well operated by Chevron 230 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro. As a massive drill bit punctured reservoir N560, roughly 3,500 feet beneath the ocean floor, monitors revealed pressure much higher than technicians expected. The next day a routine flyover of the field, called Frade, in the Campos Basin, revealed oil on the water’s surface.

Chevron dispatched remote-controlled submarines, which found oil seeping through fissures on the sea floor directly above N560. The blowout preventer, a three-story-tall valve assembly, automatically cut off oil flow at the wellhead. This would not become another BP disaster, in which the blowout preventer notoriously failed. Still, George Buck, president of Chevron’s Brazil subsidiary, ordered the Frade well shut down. Chevron sent 18 vessels in rotation to contain the oil on the surface, and it readied pyramid-shaped steel caps to cover the seepage points. Workers completed the job in just four days. Buck saw the situation as under control. And technically, it was.