The dramatic Greenpeace International action at Prirazlomnaya in September 2013 is mostly infamous for causing a lot of problems for the 28 activists, two freelance journalists and the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. But what media doesn't report and people don't know about this peaceful protest is that it also made possible positive changes in Russian policies regarding the Arctic.
After the Prirazlomnaya action, Russian authorities and oil company Gazprom started making slow, but important steps in the right direction; at least appearing to solve environmental problems in the Arctic that Greenpeace Russia and other NGOs have been pointing out for years.
Here are the 6 most notable changes:
- Russia announced in the Arctic Council that it will support a legally binding international agreement against oil pollution of the Arctic Seas. That's exactly what Greenpeace has been fighting for!
However, in 2013 the Arctic Council produced a very disappointing draft of this agreement that contained no requirements for the companies operating in the Arctic. We hope that the final document, that is to be issued by the end of this year, will be more relevant. Possibly, thanks to input from the Russian representatives.
- Russia's President Putin tasked the Russian Government and oil companies with preparing measures on protecting the Arctic biodiversity from oil spills in cooperation with scientists and NGOs.
- Gazprom made an effort to improve its notoriously weak oil spill contingency plan for Prirazlomnaya.
Greenpeace Russia has many criticisms for Gazprom's rather lame oil spill response plan, which includes cleaning dozens of kilometers of coastline that could be polluted after an oil spill with only "15 shovels and 15 buckets". Now they generously provide 69 sets of equipment instead. And, even more ambitiously, they are buying two more standby vessels to use in the case of emergency.
Adding more ships and buckets to the response plan will not stop an oil accident in the offshore Arctic from devastating the environment, but we see these changes as a positive sign from the normally stolid Gazprom.
- The Russian Ministry of Environment at last acknowledged the huge scale of the oil spill problem in Russia and promised to employ new technologies to improve the situation.
For many years Russian authorities refused to acknowledge the problem and did very little to stop billions of tons of oil leaking into water and soil each year. But this year the Minister for Natural Resources admitted that the state has no reliable information on oil spills and the resulting damage to the environment, and announced that the government aims to improve the situation by applying modern technologies like satellite monitoring.
- The Ministry of Natural Resources, as a result of Greenpeace Russia campaigning, agreed that granting oil giants like Rosneft and ExxonMobil licenses to develop hydrocarbons inside Russian federal nature reserves is not right. Any industrial activity inside protected areas is illegal according to Russian law.
As a result, the Ministry should adjust the licenses to block borders which overlap with the Russian Arctic National Park, Franz-Joseph Land reserve and several other areas, by the end of this year.
- Greenpeace Russia pointed out that according to current Russian regulations an offshore oil rig like Prirazlomnaya is allowed to extract oil for two years without training its personnel on how to respond to an oil spill. The Ministry of Emergency has since drafted amendments that would change this absurd situation.
We are sure that these positive changes have been provoked at least in part by the peaceful protest at Prirazlomnaya in September 2013, and the ongoing global campaign to save the Arctic, which has attracted the entire world's attention to the risks of oil drilling in extreme Arctic conditions.
Yes, Prirazlomnaya, the first and the only production oil rig in the offshore Arctic, did start drilling. But this over-priced vanity project has already begun to justify our warnings. Only one small tanker of low quality Arctic oil – that's all this rusty monster managed to export during seven months of production.
It's very possible they will lose the battle against the harsh Arctic conditions, as Cairn Energy did in Greenland and Shell did in Alaska. And that means the Arctic will win. We'll do our best to make sure the world understands that their example of dangerous offshore Arctic drilling is not one to be followed.
Maria Favorskaya is a Press officer at Greenpeace Russia.