March 21, 2012 at 3:44 PM ET
RIO DE JANEIRO -- A Brazilian federal prosecutor filed criminal charges against U.S. oil company Chevron and drill-rig operator Transocean for a November oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, the prosecutor's office said on Wednesday.
The prosecutor, Eduardo Santos de Oliveira, also filed criminal charges against 17 executives and employees at Chevron and Transocean, owner of the world's largest oil rig fleet. Among the defendants is George Buck, 46, a U.S. national in charge of Chevron's operations in Brazil, the office said in a statement.
The charges allege that the spill created "a prolonged contamination time bomb" that threatens the entire marine ecosystem.
At least 110,000 gallons of oil seeped through cracks on the ocean floor near a Chevron Corp. appraisal well off the Rio de Janeiro coast in November. The well, drilled by Transocean Ltd., has since been sealed, but a small amount of seepage reappeared in recent days, raising concern the damage is not yet over.
In addition to Buck, prosecutors leveled criminal charges against five other Americans, five Brazilians, two Frenchmen, two Australians, a Canadian and a Briton.
Prosecutors have also asked that that all the assets of those charged be seized, that each person be fined $555,555 and each company $5.6 million.
Brazil has seen much worse oil spills, but the Chevron leak is the biggest test of offshore drilling safety since massive deposits were discovered in recent years, reserves that could hold 50 billion barrels of oil. Prison sentences could reach as high as 31 years.
The spill was less than 0.1 percent of the size of the 4-million-barrel BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
This article includes reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.
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