* Charges had been dropped in 2013 after a settlement
* Chevron, 11 employees the subject of reopened case
* Oil agency approves Chevron restart of offshore wells
By Jeb Blount
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 4 Brazilian judges ordered
a criminal prosecution of Chevron Corp. and 11 employees
over an oil spill in Nov. 2011, in a process reinstated more
than a year after being thrown out following a settlement with
An appeals panel made the 2-to-1 decision in October, but
kept it quiet as judges reviewed Chevron's challenges to their
ruling, Brazil's public prosecutor's office, which oppposed the
dismissal, said on Wednesday.
Chevron confirmed the ruling late on Thursday.
The case is likely to revive concern over the speed and
security of Brazilian legal rulings.
The same prosecutor's office that drew up a settlement to
help get the charges dropped is now working to re-open the
criminal part of the case. Similar, and even larger, spills by
other companies in Brazil have not led to criminal charges.
"The prosecutors are trying to show that the defendants'
arguments that there is no proof of an environmental crime are
wrong," the prosecutors said in a statement.
Prosecutors say their evidence shows the defendants are
responsible for environmental pollution.
These pollution routes include the spilling of residues,
unauthorized extraction of mineral resources, irregular
operations with the potential to pollute, damage to public
assets and other crimes, prosecutors said in their statement.
Chevron "continues to believe that the complaint is without
merit," the San Ramon, California-based company said in an
e-mail, adding that it intended to fight the ruling.
The prosecutors are not trying to reinstate charges against
employees of Chevron's drilling contractor Transocean Ltd
, who were named in the original indictment.
From the beginning Chevron has said it took full
responsibility for the accident. The defendants face up to three
decades in jail if convicted.
The case now returns to the 10th Federal Criminal Court in
Rio de Janeiro. That court threw out the case in January 2013
shortly after Chevron agreed to about $150 million in remedial
actions and signed an adjustment-of-conduct accord with
prosecutors and Brazil's environment agency over the spill.
The spill in the Frade field northeast of Rio de Janeiro
leaked an estimated 4,600 barrels of oil into the ocean, less
than 1 percent of the giant and deadly Deepwater Horizon spill
in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The spill that Brazil's petroleum regulator said had caused
no discernible environmental damage, injuries or deaths was also
the subject of a controversial civil lawsuit seeking nearly $20
billion in damages. Prosecutors dropped that case in October.
Chevron and its partners in Frade had to stop producing for
about a year and a half. Brazilian petroleum regulator ANP fined
Chevron for failing to follow drilling plans, but absolved it of
"We are confident that once all the facts are fully
examined, they will demonstrate that the company responded
appropriately and responsibly to the incident and that there is
no damage to the environment or risk to human health associated
with the incident," Chevron said in the statement.
The ANP agreed on March 31 to let Chevron restart all its
production wells at Frade, Chevron said in a statement.
A year ago, the ANP authorized Chevron to start four wells,
from which its daily production in February stood at 17,279
barrels of oil and natural gas, about a quarter of 2011 peak
output before the spill.
Chevron officials were not immediately available to say how
many production wells the company has at Frade.
Chevron is still barred from operating water-injection wells
at Frade, which are used to boost reservoir production. The ANP
fears such wells may cause oil leaks through seabed fissures.
Chevron owns 52 percent of Frade. Brazil's state-run
Petroleo Brasileiro SA owns 30 percent and Frade
Japao, a joint venture between Japanese trading houses Inpex
Corp and Sojitz Corp, owns 18 percent.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)