UPDATE 2-Brazil Senate passes bill to relax Petrobras hold on rich oil region

miércoles 24 de febrero de 2016 22:10 GYT

(Recasts; Adds minister comments and context)

By Maria Carolina Marcello and Jeb Blount

BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO Feb 24 (Reuters) - Brazil's Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that reduces Petrobras control over some of the country's most promising offshore oil resources, in an attempt to kick start the country's oil industry hammered by low oil prices and a corruption scandal at the state-run oil company.

The Senate passed the bill, 40-26, ending a requirement that Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the company is formally known, operate all new developments in an offshore region known as the Subsalt Poligon and provide at least 30 percent of investment.

If passed by the lower house of Congress and President Dilma Rousseff, the bill will overturn parts of a 2010 law seeking to increase government control of giant new offshore oil and gas resources.

The 2010 law has been criticized for limiting foreign investment in the Poligon, a region off Brazil's coast near Rio de Janeiro where large resources lie far beneath the seabed by a layer of mineral salts.

Petrobras, the world's most indebted oil company, has said it may not have the financial strength to finance exploration of such areas, putting at risk oil development and the billions in royalties the government wants.

"The only way to get the industry working again quickly is to pass this law," said Aluizio dos Santos, Mayor of Macaé, Brazil, the key offshore base for development of Brazil's offshore Campos Basin. His city has seen thousands of layoffs as Petrobras activity slows and oil prices fall.

"The requirement that Petrobras is the only operator and minimum 30 percent financial operator has turned the promise of offshore subsalt oil into a curse," he said.   Continuación...