BRASILIA, June 27 (Reuters) - The board of Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobras, approved the exploration of new oil and gas fields in February, Planning Minister Miriam Belchior said on Friday, countering criticism by some board members that they were not previously informed of a 15 billion reais ($6.8 billion) oil-rights deal.
Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the company is formally known, on Tuesday was awarded the rights to explore four fields off Brazil's southeast coast believed to contain an estimated 5 billion to 9 billion barrels of oil.
In return, it will pay the government 15 billion reais through 2018, with 2 billion reais going to the Treasury's coffers this year. The cash will help the government with its fiscal goals amid a weakening economy.
On Thursday, Petrobras board members Silvio Sinedino and Mauro Cunha said they knew nothing of the oil-rights plan. Sinedino said he is considering a complaint to securities regulator CVM.
Belchior, who as planning minister holds a seat on the Petrobras board, told reporters on Friday that the company had been authorized to search for new sources of oil and gas as part of its 2030 strategic plan.
The oil-rights deal will increase annual Petrobras investments by about 3 percent. The company will have to buy billions of dollars worth of oil platforms and equipment even as its debt soars and production falls short of current targets.
$1 = 2.20 Brazilian reais Reporting by Leonardo Goy; Writing by Asher Levine and Steve Orlofsky