Brazil Pins Hopes On Massive, Untapped Oil Fields The discovery of several massive oil fields in Brazil has put a spotlight on a company little known outside petroleum circles: state-owned Petrobras, which is now gearing up to pump as much oil as it can. Brazil hopes to be a major oil player once these fields are in full production.

Brazil Pins Hopes On Massive, Untapped Oil Fields

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Now let's go to a country that sees its future not in English but in oil. Brazil says it has found several elephant fields of oil. That's a pool of oil holding a billion barrels or more. The discoveries will make the South American nation a major oil player once the fields are in full production. Now, Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobras, is now gearing up to pump as much oil as it can. In the second part of our series about Brazil's rising economy, NPR's Juan Forero reports from Angra Dos Reis.

JUAN FORERO: To drill for its version of El Dorado, Brazil is going to have to go far and deep � 200 miles into the Atlantic, more than four miles down, through swirling seas, rock, and a thick cap of salt.

The only way to go after the oil is to build a fleet of floating production platforms and drilling rigs.

(Soundbite of machinery)

FORERO: The construction is taking place in a half-dozen Brazilian shipyards.

Roberto Moro oversees some of the building here at the vast shipyard at Angra, southeast of Rio Des Janeiro. A mechanical engineer, he started at Petrobras nearly 30 years ago, when it was little more than a trading company.

Now, with Petrobras leading the way, Brazil produces 2.4 million barrels a day. That's just a hair behind longtime oil power Venezuela.

Mr. ROBERTO MORO (Mechanical Engineer, Petrobras): Petrobras became to be an international player in the market of oil and gas. Of course we are very proud of this. And now we are going to increase the oil production to be oil exporters. This is very important to the country.

FORERO: What Petrobras is doing here at Angra is part of an ambitious undertaking, the initial phase of a $174 billion, five-year spending plan.

Here, framed by the blue Atlantic and a horseshoe of lush, green hills, 4,000 men build billion-dollar production platforms. Once completed, they'll each pump 180,000 barrels of crude a day.

They're colossal. The hulls alone weigh 12,000 tons. They're as tall as a 10-story building and as wide as a football field. Moro says each will weigh the equivalent of four 747s.

Mr. MORO: We are going to have 50,000 tons of steel at the end. It's very, very big.

FORERO: Brazil has already made important strides, recently becoming self-sufficient in oil production and ending decades of importing.

Then in 2006, Petrobras found Tupi � a pool with up to eight billion barrels. Other fields in the pre-salt reservoir � so called because the crude lies beneath 6,500 feet of salt � may add billions more.

Petrobras' president, Jose Sergio Gabrielli, says Petrobras will produce 3.9 million barrels a day by 2020.

All that has investors starry-eyed.

Though Petrobras is state-controlled, Gabrielli says a third of its stock is in foreign hands - stock that's among the most heavily traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Mr. JOSE SERGIO GABRIELLI (President, Petrobras): We are today the fifth largest company worldwide in all sectors. Our market capital is $208 billion.

FORERO: Of course, oil companies tend to be big. Petrobras stands out in another way - its proficiency in deep-sea production. Gabrielli says the company has a fifth of worldwide deep sea operations, more than any other company.

Mr. GABRIELLI: It's impossible, only by luck, to find a well 300 kilometers from the coast, 2,000 meters beneath the water, and with 4,000 meters of rocks and 2,000 meters of salt. By luck is impossible. It has to be through a very long research, technological development, expertise.

FORERO: At the shipyard, the sound of welding is music to Evango Salvas del Britos's(ph) ears. He's 59, has worked on shipyards for decades, but never on a project quite like this one.

Mr. EVANGO SALVAS DEL BRITOS: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He says the progress at the yard is great and that in his opinion Petrobras is on its way to becoming the world's largest oil producer.

Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language)

FORERO: Just a few feet away, a group of workers in oily work shirts and jeans take a break. They clasp hands and sing.

Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language)

FORERO: They're in a prayer group, and like all the other yard workers here, they're optimistic about the future. But that doesn't mean they aren't prepared to ask a higher power for help.

Everyone knows the success of their mission here at Angra is vital for Brazil.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.