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Report: Little Damage from Chevron's Brazil Spill

A federal police spokesman confirmed Wednesday that investigators have found that an offshore oil spill near a Chevron well last year caused no significant environmental damage.

SAO PAULO (AP) — A federal police spokesman confirmed Wednesday that investigators have found that an offshore oil spill near a Chevron well last year caused no significant environmental damage.

The spokesman gave no other details about the conclusion, which was reported earlier in the day by two leading Brazilian newspapers: Folha de S. Paulo and O Estado de S. Paulo. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the case.

He said the report was delivered to a federal court, where a judge is considering criminal charges sought by federal prosecutors against Chevron Corp. and drilling contractor Transocean Ltd. That case includes a study conducted earlier this year by Brazil's environmental agency that concluded that the leak did cause environmental damage.

A spokeswoman at the federal court said she would not comment on the report until after it is reviewed by a judge. She declined to be identified in line with departmental regulations.

About 110,000 gallons (416,300 liters) of crude seeped into the ocean near the well off the northeastern coast of Rio de Janeiro state in November.

Chevron spokesman Kurt Glaubitz said in an emailed statement that "continuous monitoring of the incident area shows no discernible environmental impact to marine life or human health. No oil has reached Brazil's coast."

Last year, federal prosecutor Eduardo Santos de Oliveira filed an $11 billion suit against Chevron and Transocean because of the oil spill. In April this year, he filed a new $11 billion suit against the two companies for alleged environmental damage caused by oil that leaked from cracks on the ocean floor, months after the November leak.

Oliveira's office said he was not immediately available to comment on the new report nor how it will affect the cases.

The leaks were seen as a challenge for plans to safely extract oil from the offshore finds Brazil has seen in recent years. The finds are estimated to hold at least 50 billion barrels of oil, the biggest discoveries in the Americas in three decades.

Also last year, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against 17 Chevron and Transocean company executives, accusing them of environmental crimes, of misleading Brazil's oil regulator about safety plans and of not providing accurate information in the wake of the spill.

A judge must still decide if the case will go to trial, which would be a lengthy process given the number of defendants, the complexity of the case and the Brazilian legal system's room for numerous appeals.

After last year's leak, Chevron said it had underestimated the pressure in an underwater reservoir, and crude rushed up a bore hole and eventually escaped into the surrounding seabed some 230 miles (370 kilometers) off Rio's coast. The oil escaped through at least seven narrow fissures on the ocean floor, all within 160 feet (50 meters) of the wellhead.

Oil started leaking from cracks on the ocean floor at the site of a Chevron appraisal well last Nov. 7, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) off the northeastern coast of Rio de Janeiro state. About two weeks later, ANP said that the leak was under control.

Chevron has said that the work at the Frade field in the Campos Basin where the leaks occurred is among its "biggest capital investments."

The field produces close to 62,000 barrels of oil a day.

Brazil produces 2.75 million barrels of oil a day. Its daily consumption rate is 2.65 million barrels.

Chevron has already been punished for the spill.

Last year, Brazil's National Petroleum Agency banned the company from drilling any new wells until the investigation into the leaks is finished and the Brazilian Environment Ministry has fined Chevron about $28 million.