Brazil will drill massive oil find despite climate concerns: minister

MADRID (Reuters) - Brazil will push to expand oil drilling in its massive “pre-salt” oil and gas area off its coast in spite of growing global concerns about climate change, the country’s energy minister told Reuters on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque attends a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ian Cheibub/File Photo

Brazil’s Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque spoke on the sidelines of a climate summit underway in Madrid where UN leaders have been urging countries to do the opposite and aggressively cut emissions of climate-altering gases that come largely from fossil fuels, or risk a global catastrophe.

Albuquerque said Brazil as a developing country “could not release its grip on hydrocarbons,” saying oil would continue to be an important energy source for the world for many years to come.

The country - which heavily uses biofuel and gets a major chunk of its own power from hydroelectric and other renewable sources and - can do that while still meeting its goal to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement, Albuquerque said. In fact, Brazil has space to increase its target, he said.

“Because of its diversity of energy sources, Brazil will surpass its targets with a certain tranquility and will continue to explore its riches responsibly and sustainably,” the minister, an active navy admiral, said in an interview in an ornate historic military cultural center in downtown Madrid.

Brazil’s right-wing government led by President Jair Bolsonaro has firmly prioritized development over conservation since he assumed office Jan. 1.

Albuquerque said that the government would re-auction two exploration blocs, that failed to attract interest in a November auction, between August and October next year.

Major oil companies stayed away from the auction of the so-called “transfer of rights” oil area because of steep signing fees and the dominant position of state-owned oil firm Petrobras.

In another move to amp up development, Albuquerque said the government would send a previously promised bill allowing for commercial mining on indigenous reserves by the end of the year.

A 720-km (450 mile) power line that will pass through an indigenous reserve is also expected to receive an environmental license this month, allowing for construction to begin in January, he said.

The government has fast-tracked the project which will link the state of Roraima, which previously relied on crisis-wracked Venezuela for electricity, to the rest of Brazil’s power grid.

Albuquerque predicted that a long-held plan to privatize state-owned utility Eletrobras would receive the congressional approval it needs to move forward by June.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Marguerita Choy