Right now I am in the Russian Arctic as part of a Greenpeace factfinding mission. We are near a town called Pyt'-Yah, in the Khanty-Mansi region of Siberia, which is surrounded by Rosneft oil fields, the largest public oil company in the world. This is the oil producing capital of Russia, a country where hydrocarbons provide 25% of the national budget, while creating terrible inflation and total dependence on oil markets.
We are in the middle of a large bog covered with a slime of thick, black oil — there's no way to keep your clothes clean here. This is the hidden side of the raw-material economy, hidden from the eyes of European consumers and the big spenders in Russia's major cities.
Just a few hours before we arrived at the Mamontovskoe field (one of the 10 largest oil fields in Russia), a pipeline ruptured. Dozens of workers and machines are hurrying to amend the pipe so that they can continue production. The swampy soil under our feet is literally bubbling: toxic liquid from the broken pipe is spreading and the chemical smell is sticky and suffocating.
None of the workers are paying attention to the oil spilling just 100 meters away. And it did not just appear today; oil has been leaking from a rusty pipe here for several years and formed a black "lake" several hundred meters long that is expanding year by year.
But these oilmen do pay attention to our appearance: two security cars approach and demand that we leave this "private area immediately." They are nervous and keep muttering: "How did you learn about the accident?" But in the Khanty-Mansi region where Rosneft is responsible for 2,700 leaks each year, it's not hard to find several without even trying.
Here in the depths of the Siberian forests, oil companies don't need to care about their image. The government has failed to establish regular control and supervision over their activities, and most of the small accidents go unnoticed. For larger spills, Rosneft pays only paltry fines.
The Russian oil industry spills over 30 millions barrels of oil on land every year, equivalent to seven Deepwater Horizon disasters. Of more than 20,000 single accidents annually, half are Rosneft's, making this reckless company the global leader in oil spills with a staggering 10,000 incidents on its books.
Watchdogs point out that 97 percent of pipeline ruptures happen as a result of corrosion, which occurs because of old age and misuse of equipment. Most of these pipes are more than 30 years old, and were never intended to last that long.
We see pipelines just lying on the ground or even in water streams getting rusty with wet soil and snow; we see pits left open after repair work, now filled with black oil. Thousands of hectares of forests around are slowly dying from toxic contamination and fires, water basins shine with oil slick. Some spills are several kilometers long and many years old — they appear around leaking pipes and just grow larger and larger each year. We see many dead birds and small animals. The locals say they saw dead elks in the middle of oil-covered bog.
Even if supervisors find the spill, it does not mean it will be cleaned up. A company often just imitates the process of land reclamation, burying the oil under the soil and covering their mess with sand — out of sight, out of mind. After several years of this, most of the natural vegetation dies off. And many generations will come and go before the natural landscape recovers in these severe subarctic conditions.
Indigenous Peoples of this area — Khanty, Mansi, and Nenets — are forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle. The oil here that our country is so proud of means less game in the forest, no fish in polluted rivers, and that reindeer pastures — traditional hunting grounds of the Indigenous Peoples here — are being replaced with roads and oil fields.
This environmental disaster is simply the daily routine of this oil giant that is now rushing to exploit the Arctic. Instead of replacing its leaky, rusty pipes in Siberia, it plans to invest billions of dollars into Arctic shelf exploration. With strong support from the government, Rosneft now has the rights to exploit over 1 million square kilometers of the Russian Arctic, and plans to expand further.
At international conferences and top-level meetings, Rosneft often talks about its advanced technologies and sustainable development of the Arctic. But we are here with our boots sunk deep in an oil spill and we can see how far from the truth these declarations lay.
Together we can stop these companies from destroying the offshore Arctic the way they're destroying northern Russia. Join us.
Zhenya Belyakova is an Arctic campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Russia.