Brazil’s oil industry battles deadliest COVID-19 wave yet

FILE PHOTO: HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/PETROBRAS
FILE PHOTO: A Petrobras Oil platform is seen at Guabanara bay in Rio de Janeiro, March 26, 2010. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

March 24, 2021

By Gram Slattery and Marta Nogueira

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The deadly coronavirus wave that has torn through Brazil in recent weeks has not spared its oil industry, according to unions and government data reviewed by Reuters, with infections among workers jumping and production taking a hit.

New COVID-19 cases among offshore oil workers rose to 46 on March 24 from 17 on March 3, based on a 15-day moving average, data from national oil regulator ANP showed.

Active cases are at their highest level since December at Brazil’s largest oil producer, state-run Petrobras, with 294 cases among employees as of Monday, according to Mines and Energy Ministry data.

Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the firm is formally known, told Reuters it has adopted “rigorous measures” since the beginning of the pandemic to protect workers, carrying out some 650,000 COVID-19 tests among its workforce of roughly 46,000.

When employees are confined to enclosed spaces, as is common on offshore platforms, the company monitors them for 14 days prior to the beginning of their shift, Petrobras said.

Still, those efforts have not insulated the company from a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

Brazil’s death toll from the virus hit a record high 3,251 on Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported, with 1,171 in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the heart of Brazil’s oil industry.

Automakers Volvo AB, Volkswagen AG and Mercedes Benz have scaled back production, citing health risks to workers.

PRODUCTION

The virus is also hitting output at Petrobras.

Production slowed last week at two platforms at the major Marlim Sul oilfield after an outbreak, a branch of the national FUP oil union told Reuters.

By the end of last week, lost production totaled roughly 64,000 barrels, the union said.

Petrobras said it had brought back to shore all workers who tested positive for the virus, along with those who had come in close contact with them. The company confirmed that production levels had been reduced at two platforms, but said they had since returned to normal levels.

On Monday, workers at Petrobras’ REGAP refinery walked off the job, the local FUP branch said in a statement, alleging that some 200 workers were currently sick and 10 were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Petrobras said that REGAP production had not been affected.

“Unfortunately, there has been an increase in cases throughout the country and that increase in COVID-19 is also present among Petrobras workers,” the company said.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery and Marta Nogueira; additional reporting by Luciano Costa in Sao Paulo; editing by Jason Neely)