RIO DE JANEIRO Ė A Brazilian court has barred 17 executives of U.S. oil supermajor Chevron Corp. and Swiss-based offshore drilling contractor Transocean Ltd. from leaving the country in the wake of two recent oil leaks in the Atlantic Ocean, officials said Saturday.
Those executives, who will face criminal charges, include the CEO of Chevronís Brazilian division, U.S. citizen George Buck, as well as four other Americans, two Frenchmen, three Australians, a Canadian, a Briton and five Brazilians.
Rio de Janeiro Federal Criminal Court Judge Vlamir Costa Magalhaes issued the order requiring the executives to hand over their passports to Brazilís Federal Police and barring them from leaving the country without the courtís express permission, the official Agencia Brasil news agency reported.
The federal Attorney Generalís Office said it will file criminal charges against the 17 executives next week for a leak last November at a well in the Frade field, operated by Chevron, and another crude leak in the same area this week.
Brazilian authorities said they detected a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) oil stain in the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday, two days after Chevron announced the latest ocean-floor seep.
The stain is located 130 kilometers (80 miles) off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state, in the vicinity of the Frade field, where oil had begun seeping out of fissures in the sea floor, according to a joint statement from the navy, the ANP oil regulator and environmental authorities.
The leak occurred about three kilometers (1.9 miles) from a Chevron well that had to be sealed last November after an oil leak at the same field.
According to the companyís calculations, that leak sent 2,400 barrels spewing into the ocean, although Brazilian authorities say they believe the amount was nearly 15,000 barrels.
Following that accident, Chevron acknowledged that the cracks in the ocean floor occurred because it miscalculated the pressure in the reservoir.
Authorities announced that they will hold a meeting at the start of next week to evaluate the environmental damage and coordinate response actions.
They also said they are working permanently in the area to verify the procedures Chevron is adopting to disperse the latest stain.
Brazilian authorities have imposed several fines on Chevron and the company also faces lawsuits seeking to ban it from operating in Brazil and force it to pay steep compensation for the November spill.
The ANP has barred Chevron from drilling new wells in Brazil until the investigation into the November spill has concluded.
Following the latest leak, Chevron announced that it would temporarily suspend field production operations at Frade, located in the Campos basin, where nearly 90 percent of Brazilís oil and gas is extracted.
Chevron has been producing 61,500 barrels of crude per day at Frade, whose recoverable reserves are estimated at between 200-300 million barrels.
The San Ramon, California-based multinational is the operator of the field with a 51.74 percent stake, while Brazilian state-controlled energy giant Petrobras and Japanís Frade Japao Petroleo have 30 percent and 18.26 percent interests, respectively.