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Oil: a national treasure

Oil rigs and platforms dot the distant horizon off the south Atlantic coast here. ``They are like stark sentinels guarding the treasures of Brazil,'' says Joao da Gama Reis, a helmeted oil industry engineer. ``And I guess you could say oil is a national treasure.''

Indeed it is. This fifth-largest nation in the world was petroleum poor a generation ago. That was before the discovery of oil offshore here by Petrobr'as, the state oil enterprise, in 1974.

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Since then, Petrobr'as has drilled more than 500 wells -- and is producing almost 300,000 barrels a day. Output is likely to jump to 500,000 in a year or so, which could make Brazil the No. 3 oil producer in Latin America.

``We are no longer looking at an empty barrel and huge payments for imported oil,'' says Jos'e Augusto Arantes Savasini, a leading economist. ``We ought to be self-sufficient by the end of the decade.''

Already Brazil produces 80 percent of its oil needs. As recently as 1982 it had been spending half its import bill on oil.

``Our future is no longer mortgaged to oil imports,'' says Cesar Cals, the minister of mines and energy. Although Petro-br'as is a quasi-independent state enterprise, there is close liaison between Mr. Cals's office and that of the oil monopoly.

Foreign firms engage in limited oil exploration, but it is the state oil enterprise that gets most of the credit for the developing Brazil's oil fortunes. -- 30 -- {et

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