Petroleum is probably one of the most precious commodities we have. It powers every aspect of human life, not just in terms of energy for transportation and heating but petrochemicals have spawned industries without which modern human life may well be impossible. One of the biggest risks with the extraction of crude is the risk of oil spills and their disastrous consequences, both to wildlife as well as human health.
AP recently reported that Russia, one of the richest oil nations, spills as much as 5 million tons every year. This amounts to only 1 percent of its total production but according to AP, it is “equivalent to one Deepwater Horizon-scale leak about every two months.” Russia is responsible for 13 percent of the world’s total oil output, but it is battling a crumbling infrastructure as well as one of the harshest climates known to man.
Komi is one of Russia’s largest and oldest oil provinces and in the town of Usinsk, 1500 kilometers (930 miles) northeast of Moscow, a spill occurred as recently as Saturday last week. Rusty pipes and old wells do not do enough to ensure that oil is properly extracted, and as it slowly seeps through it contaminates soil and makes it uninhabitable for birds, animals and plants. Rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean are contaminated with half a million tons of oil every year, thereby upsetting one of the most delicate ecosystems in the world. As the oil continues to flow in drops and little gushes, it is difficult to accurately estimate the amount of oil that is actually wasted. However, both WWF and Greenpeace estimate that it is around 5 million tons. AP reports that,
“Russian state-funded research shows that 10-15 percent of Russian oil leakage enters rivers; and a 2010 report commissioned by the Natural Resources Ministry that shows nearly 500,000 tons slips into northern Russian rivers every year and flows into the Arctic.”
Most of these leaks go unreported and if they are less than 8 tons, they are classified as “incidents” and therefore carry no penalty under Russian law. Another contributing factor to the lack of proper estimates is the fact that these leaks occur in vast areas of the tundra which remain largely unpopulated.
In spite of this, many companies are eyeing the Arctic as a potential source of oil and are willing to continue exploration and drilling operations. However, the Russian government acknowledges that they do not have the required technology and it will be years before they are able to invest in adequate technology to make drilling in this vulnerable area safe. Russia’s second largest oil company, Lukoil, is in charge of these oil fields in the region of Usinsk and they are unwilling to repair the pipelines since it costs too much money. According to Ivan Blokov, campaign director at Greenpeace Russia,
“It (oil spills) is happening everywhere. It’s typical of any oil field in Russia. The system is old and it is not being replaced in time by any oil company in the country.”
With one of the highest rates of accidents in the world, Russian oil extraction endangers the surrounding environment. The Russian government needs to impose some strict measures to ensure that this does not continue as environmental campaign groups can only do so much.
Image Credit: Oil Spill Cleanup. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wikimedia Commons