When BP spilt 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the whole world took notice. The Russian oil industry spills more than 30 million barrels on land each year — seven times the amount that escaped during the Deepwater Horizon disaster — often under a veil of secrecy and corruption. And every 18 months, more than four million barrels spews into the Arctic Ocean, where it becomes everyone's problem.
Komi region oil spill sites
After analysing satellite images to identify spill sites, Greenpeace staff travelled to this and other Arctic and subarctic regions to investigate and document the spills and expose the extent of the damage. All these photos were taken over a three-day period in just one of the many oil spill hotspots in Russia.
The cycle of oil, corruption and pollution
Intensive development work carried out by the oil and gas industry is generally accompanied by large-scale PR campaigns. These are focused on making local residents believe that oil drilling and production are absolutely harmless and will positively contribute to the overall development of the region and its infrastructure.
How much oil is spilled in Russia each year?
Extreme weather conditions along with a lack of maintenance have resulted in a slow but constant seepage of oil from pipeline ruptures. Additionally, there is still "outlawed" burning of associated gas (60% of which is methane — a powerful greenhouse gas). Russia burns around 40 billion cubic metres of this kind of gas annually.
Indigenous groups of the Russian North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia, totaling about 250,000 people, are some of the most vulnerable groups in Russian society. Their economy and traditional lifestyles are directly dependent on fishing, hunting, deer farming and gathering, so the development of extractive industries, private fisheries and forest industry badly affects their traditional territories, and their right to sustain themselves in a traditional way off the land. Photos: Daniel Mueller/Greenpeace
rom the age of 12 till he retired at 72 Kanev Vyacheslav Vasilyevich bred reindeers from the Komi village Ust'-Usa.
Reindeers need wide, free land. Today Komi land is marred by more than 3,000 drill holes, thousands of kilometers of pipelines, numerous roads, paths and oil industry facilities. Kanev says that he had to drive his animals further and further south to provide them untouched pastures. The reindeers refused to eat the moss and the lichens from the contaminated region. The spread of the oil industry makes breeding reindeers impossible and it is no longer a viable livelihood.
alery Bratenkov works as a foreman at oil fields outside Usinsk. After hours, he is with a local environmental group. Bratenkov used to point out to his bosses that oil spills often happen under their noses and asked them to repair the pipelines. "They were offended and said that costs too much money." (Source: AP on location with Greenpeace)
In the oil development area, the spilled oil forms toxic lakes, suffocates the vegetation, penetrates the soil, and seeps into the groundwater. In the little village of Ust'-Usa the people live with the consequences every day.
Young people in the village of Kolva have little hope for their future. They suffer from high unemployment, very few get jobs with the oil companies and other opportunities are limited. Alcoholism is is also a problem.
The suicide rate in Russia is already considered to be a national crisis. In the Komi Republic, the rates are nearly double the national average and amongst the Indigenous communities, suicide rates are three times this level.
fisherman in Kolva shows his meager catch. "40 years ago they arrived, drilled oil and just let it bubble into the landscape and the rivers, until the fish swam with the stomach upward. Then we knew what the future would be like." Fishing, hunting and farming were the traditional professions of the Komi, but nowadays nobody can live off them anymore.
n the long Arctic winter, oil leaks unnoticed from numerous underground pipeline ruptures. With the rising temperatures in summer, huge amounts of oil are flushed with the melt-water into the rivers. "In springtime it is the worst," say the inhabitants of Ust'-Usa. "Then you have got oil in the water, in the air, in the food, everywhere. It stinks of oil. The spring is one of the worst seasons." Photo: Greenpeace/Staffan Julén
Russia's claim on the Arctic
Lessons to be learned
According to a representative from the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, "The development of Russia's continental shelf is characterised by the most complicated working conditions and requires the use of new and unique technologies. At the same time, among the major constraints are: extremely difficult, natural climatic and engineering-geological conditions, lack of infrastructure, remoteness of extraction areas from coastal support bases, and the absence of proven technologies for the development of offshore oil and gas fields in the Arctic."
If the Russian oil and gas industry has been unable to adhere to regulations in the existing fields — despite having all the necessary technical capabilities — why would we believe it will show any greater responsibility to environmental issues when developing the offshore Arctic?
Previously classified government documents state that dealing with oil spills in the freezing waters is "almost impossible" and inevitable mistakes would shatter the fragile Arctic environment.
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