Arctic Oil Spill Investigated in Secret

A state watchdog wrapped up the investigation of an oil spill in the Russian Arctic, but named no names in what a WWF expert called a setback in an otherwise unusually efficient handling of the incident.

Experts of the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Atomic Inspection established the people responsible and the technical causes behind the spill which took place on April 20 at the Trebs oil field in Nenets autonomous district, the agency’s Pechorskoye branch said on its website on Tuesday.

The spill was due to incorrect and missing oilwell tubing details, the agency’s main website said on Monday. However, neither report named any names.

Of three agency officials contacted by RIA Novosti by telephone on Tuesday, two redirected the inquiries and the third did not return repeated calls.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the [Bashneft] company’s handling of the incident,” said Alexei Knizhnikov, an oil industry expert with the Russian branch of the WWF. “But for regulatory authorities, this is a step back.”

A blowout at Trebs sent an oil fountain 25 meters high in the air in April, pumping up an estimated 400 to 500 tons of oil a day. Satellite monitoring data published by the WWF indicated the spill covered an area of 42,000 square meters.

The spill took two days to be contained, and the cleanup is still ongoing, with some 150 workers and 69 units of equipment deployed for the purpose.

Bashneft, the field’s main developer, halted works in the area and fired two senior managers over the incident. However, the authorities still suspended its license for Trebs last month, though acting over a shareholder lawsuit, not the spill.

Trebs and the nearby Titov are the biggest undeveloped oil fields in Russia. Bashneft won the license to develop them in 2010, forming a joint venture, Bashneft-Polus, with LUKoil, which holds a 25.1 percent stake in the company.

The authorities’ reluctance to elaborate on the results of the investigation may indicate that the cleanup was not carried out in full, Knizhnikov said. He added that Russian oil companies are notoriously non-transparent about oil spills, but the Trebs incident was handled reasonably well.

The spill confirms activists’ warnings against Russia’s plans to explore for oil and gas in the Arctic Sea, Knizhnikov said.

Russia began considering exploration of the vast oil and gas reserves on the Arctic shelf in the late 2000s. But environmental activists say any incidents in the area may have dire consequences, both because of fragility of the Arctic ecosystem and the complexity of cleanup in remote areas.

“Trebs, located on the threshold of the Artic, was a warning,” Knizhnikov said. “If such a thing happened in the Arctic, no swift reaction like that would have been possible.”


Leave a comment