Greenpeace Russia has appealed to the Russian Prosecutors office urging an investigation into possible collusion between Gazprom and supervising authorities aimed to conceal the scale of oil spills in the Tomsk region, Siberia.
In August 2013 activists from a local NGO reported an oil spill in the north of the Tomsk region, Siberia. Two months later Rosprirodnadzor (Russia’s environmental supervision agency) examined the area in the Gazprom's Urmanskoe oil field and replied that no oil contamination was found.
Gazprom itself stated that the spill was very small (only 90 kilograms of oil leaked) and this oil had already been fully recovered. Rospriradnadzor was satisfied with this information. At that point Gazprom was fined for 10.000 rubles (about 300 US dollars) for not having reported about the accident on time.
However, Greenpeace Russia analysis of satellite images of the same oil field revealed 71 oil spills, a total area of 3.1 hectares. This is far from the 90 kilograms of oil spilled which Gazprom claimed it had already cleaned up.
Greenpeace Russia has strong reasons not to trust the conclusions of Gazprom and Rosprirodnadzor, as it appears that both company and state agency attempted to play down the scale of the spill. It is very possible that after the company learned state inspectors had been informed of the accident they covered the spills with soil to hide them.
Therefore Greenpeace Russia has made an official request for prosecutors to examine the area, where its experts has identified 71 points of possible oil contamination using high-resolution satellite images. The prosecutor has also been sent images showing the exact location of every potential spill.
Gazprom is among the 5 dirties companies in Russia, on a yearly basis it is responsible for approximately 2000 spills of oil and associated toxic products as a result of its old and rusty pipelines.
“In most cases, paying a paltry fine and covering the spill with sand is the only responsibility Gazprom bears for all the damage it causes to the environment,” explains Vladimir Chuprov, head of the Energy Department of Greenpeace Russia. - With outdated oil pipeline infrastructure and lax state control, it’s not surprising that concealing oil spills rather than cleaning them up is the common practice in Russia”.
Punishment for spills, failing to clean them up, concealing accidents needs to be high enough to make it too expensive for companies to take this risk. For instance, recently the court ruled that Lukoil should pay 20 million USD for its spills in Komi region. It is a step in the right direction, but still an unprecedented fine in Russia.
That is why dirty companies like Gazprom and their irresponsible practices should be kept far away from the icy Arctic shelf. There is no reason to believe Gazprom’s reassurances that “spills during oil production and storage are absolutely impossible” at the Prirazlomnaya rig in the Barents Sea. If drilling in the extreme conditions of the Arctic shelf is allowed to continue an oil spill there is just a matter of time.