* Workers demand Brazil escape in case of spills
* "Excessive" prosecutions limit oil hiring -De Luca
* Chevron case latest drag on slowing Brazil oil sector
By Walter Brandimarte and Rodrigo Viga Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 10 Oil companies are having
trouble hiring foreign workers crucial to Brazil's booming
offshore oil industry because of criminal and civil cases
against Chevron Corp and Transocean Ltd
employees, the head of an industry association said on Monday.
Some prospective workers needed to operate high-tech drill
rigs and other offshore oil equipment want guarantees of a swift
exit from Brazil in case of an offshore spill, João Carlos de
Luca, president of the Brazilian Petroleum Institute, said at a
Rio de Janeiro conference on the country's investment risks.
"Some companies had to make amendments to work contracts,
offering helicopters and open plane tickets so their workers can
leave the country immediately if there is an accident," De Luca
said. "With the absence of rights auctions and the repercussions
from the Frade spill, it was a very bad year for the Brazil oil
The Chevron-Transocean criminal and civil lawsuits from the
November 2011 Frade oil spill are one of the latest problems for
the once-galloping industry. It also faces changes in the law, a
lack of new lease auctions, royalty disputes and the inability
of companies to comply with government mandates to use local
goods and services.
A shortage of skilled labor also means Brazil needs
specialized foreign workers for the industry.
The decision to seek nearly $20 billion in civil damages
from Chevron and Transocean and then press criminal charges
against 17 Chevron and Transocean employees sent fear through
Brazil's growing community of foreign oil workers earlier this
year. The criminal charges against the two companies could carry
jail terms of up to 31 years.
Workers fear their passports, like those of the
Chevron-Transocean 17, could be seized, forcing them to remain
in the country, perhaps for years, captive to Brazil's
notoriously slow justice system.
Amid the "excessive" legal prosecutions, De Luca said
workers' concerns are understandable, but may be overblown.
While many of the worried workers are highly sophisticated
technicians, he added, they may not fully understand how Brazil
works. Some of them "are not culturally sophisticated," De Luca
told the audience at the conference at Rio de Janeiro's
Federation of Industries.
Courts have allowed many of the Chevron-Transocean 17 to
travel to visit family, take vacations or even accept new jobs,
as long as a 500,000 real ($240,000) bond is posted.
At one point, some oil drill rig operators even considered
not bringing any more rigs to Brazil, he said, but these
employers and their largely foreign crews are now less worried
about working in Brazil.
"I think things are accommodating and returning to normal,"
De Luca said.
De Luca did not name companies facing difficulties hiring
workers, though the bulk of Brazil's deepwater offshore drilling
rigs are owned and operated by foreign companies such as
Transocean and Ocean Rig UDW Inc. Such companies,
which also do the bulk of offshore drilling worldwide, work on
contract to operators such as state-led Petrobras and
The 3,600-barrel Frade spill was far less severe than other
recent offshore accidents. More than 5 million barrels of oil
were spilled in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in BP Plc's
Macondo field in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people died
in the Macondo accident, and beaches and fishing grounds were
On Nov. 15, BP agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in
penalties and plead guilty to criminal misconduct for the spill.
No workers were hurt in the Frade spill, and oil never came
near shore. Brazil's oil regulator, the ANP, said there was no
discernible environmental damage from the spill.
Frade is operated by Chevron, which has a 52 percent stake.
Petrobras owns 30 percent, and Frade Japão, a joint
venture between Japan's Sojitz Corp and Inpex Corp
trading houses, holds 18 percent.