Oil companies have nothing to lose from spills in Russia according to Vladimir Chuprov, head of the Greenpeace Russia Energy Programme. "Fines are negligible while the legislation is full of loopholes. That is why it is easier for the oil companies to waste up to five million tonnes of oil every year than to repair rusty pipelines."
"In a few decades the oil industry has turned the lives of the Indigenous people in Komi into misery. This is but one example of how the "modern" fossil fuel industry works in Russia. One can see the same rusty pipelines, oil swamps and dead forests in Tomsk region, Yamal-Nenets or Khanty-Mansi autonomous districts as well as many other area," Chuprov added.
To highlight the weak laws and the changes needed, Greenpeace Russia and Save the Pechora Committee, a local Non Government Organisation (NGO), coordinated an "Oil Spill Patrol" which was launched on August 11th. It is made up of over 40 international experts and volunteers.
Based in the village of Parma on the banks of the Usa river the patrol is scouting for leaks in the oilfields of Komi Republic and the Nenets region. The volunteers are from Russia, Australia, Poland, UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Greenland and France. They hope to recover oil from one of the numerous oil spills to prove that it is easier to avoid spills than to cope with their consequences.
Oil spill recovery is laborious and involves the extraction of the liquid oil with a pump while collecting the solid oil slime with shovels. The recovered oil will be recycled and used at construction sites.
Lukas Meus, an activist from Austria, said: "I came here to clean-up oil because I can't just sit back and watch the injustice in our world. I want to do something to help solve this terrible oil disaster.
"For me, it is also important to show to the world that if oil companies can't even operate safely onshore here in the Komi region, how can they then operate safely in the offshore Arctic, where weather conditions are much harsher than anywhere else? Other countries also play a part in the oil spill problem here in Russia; international companies claim to bring the best and most advanced practices, but their presence has not brought any visible changes to the oil spill problem."
Greenpeace Russia and the Save the Pechora Committee have made recommendations to improve the relevant Russian legislation in a report, "Oil pollution in Russia: problems and possible solutions."
Once the Oil Spill Patrol ends Greenpeace Russia plans to discuss the report at a meeting with oil companies and government agencies in the town of Usinsk. The report will be sent with comments from this meeting to the Russian Federation's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
Greenpeace Russia has launched a campaign asking people to sign an appeal to oil companies to stop the leakages and repair old pipelines.
This is not the first time that Greenpeace activists have recovered oil spills in Russia. They helped clean the sea coast after the disaster in the Strait of Kerch in 2007 and arranged an oil cleaning camp near Surgut in Siberia in 2000.
Maria Favorskaya is a Press officer at Greenpeace Russia.