Residents from 13 different villages in the Izhma district of the Komi region gathered at a public meeting to discuss recent environmental problems caused by Lukoil, the primary oil company operating in this subarctic area. The result of the meeting was sensational for Russia: they unanimously voted for a resolution demanding that the Lukoil-Komi Company should leave the district.
In a meeting on March 31st, alongside 150 local people, there were representatives from local administration, the prosecutor’s office, as well spokespeople from NGOs, including Save the Pechora Committee and Greenpeace.
Lukoil managers were invited, but failed to appear.
People were outraged with the multiple violations of environmental laws committed by the company and its total neglect of the local population and their interests. The participants of the meeting compiled a long list of claims against Lukoil. Below are just a few examples of these claims, and why the local residents are now ready to kick the company out of their district.
- In February 2014, the villagers of Krasnobor woke up to find that Lukoil had started constructing four new oil wells just 200 meters next to their community, in the forest where they used to collect berries and mushrooms. The community had never been given any notice of the work, let alone been invited to any negotiations with the company. Lukoil had not even bothered to inform the local government about their construction plans.
- Alexey Semyashkin, a Komi from Krasnobor, says: “One day I just saw a tractor fell a swathe of trees in the forest. The company made seismic testing and did not bother to clean the land afterwards”.
- Lukoil’s main pipeline in the Izhma district was constructed only 10 years ago, but it is already leaking badly. The latest leak occurred just a few days ago; the company tried to conceal it.
- In March 2014, Lukoil tried to clean up spilled oil by burning it, which caused heavy air pollution. Locals claim that “for two days after the accident we could see black smoke from 10 kilometers away”.
- Over the past 16 years in the district, Lukoil earned billions of dollars, while polluting the water, poisoning many hectares of swamps and forests. People complain that the cases of oncological diseases became more frequent; only last week three men died of cancer.
As a result of the meeting, people demanded that all Lukoil’s plans and documents should be discussed in public hearings in advance and that the company must sign an obligation to invest in local social projects. They have addressed the district council, and have asked them to suspend all industrial activities of Lukoil-Komi in the area until the problems are resolved.
On April11th the municipal council of Izhma district supported people's claims and voted to stop Lukoil's operations in the area. The councillors ask to stop all industrial activities till requirements of locals are fulfilled: the company is held liable for the previous oil spills and legitimate public hearings are organized to discuss expanding of Lukoil's operations in the district.
Izhma district is located on the bank of Pechora River running into the Arctic Ocean. Lukoil enjoys a monopoly in these subarctic areas. Most of its population is indigenous Komi people, many of whom earn their living from traditional activities, such as fishing, reindeer breeding, and hunting.
Even though Lukoil’s oil business is very profitable, the locals live in poverty. The company prefers not to employ them and pays little attention to local social issues.