Usinsk is a small town in the north of the Komi Republic, it is called the oil capital of the region. Several mining companies operate here at the Usinsk, Vozeysk and Kharyaga fields. Their work involves numerous oil spills that often occur due to old pipelines. Companies do not change old pipes with new ones quickly, because it takes a lot of money. Employees of Greenpeace Russia riveted attention to Usinsk after a catastrophic flood in 1994, which hit the Guinness Book of Records, and numerous incidents on Kolva river, such as occurred in 2013. In recent years, they check deposits and fix violations every summer.
July 6-8, bloggers and journalists from different regions of Russia came to the north of the Komi to see the situation with their own eyes and to ask oilers some questions. The trip was organized by the «7x7» informational support. After the blog tour, our correspondent talked to the representatives of Greenpeace Russia and Lukoil-Komi. They variously estimated the environmental policy of the mining company, but agreed on one thing: there are positive trends in the remediation of contaminated land.
Chronology of events
In August 2014, Greenpeace Russia organized a two-week camp "Oil patrol" in Komi. More than 40 Russian and foreign volunteers arrived to Usinsk, examined scenes of accidents and removed the oil. For two weeks the NGO activists have discovered 205 oil spills. Staff of Greenpeace Russia handed over all the information about them, including the coordinates and photos, to the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Komi and supervisors, and asked to bring those responsible to justice. However, experts of the regional Rosprirodnadzor declined evidence at 34 locations.
In July 2015, Greenpeace Russia organized training seminar for volunteers, activists and local residents in Usinsk, where they learned to work with map services, to find oil spills, to fix the violations, to write complaints to regulatory authorities. The participants checked nine oil spills of the previously detected. It turned out that none of them have not been removed. After that, the head of Greenpeace Russia research program Vasily Yablokov wrote another appeal to the controlling bodies with a request to produce a land restoration.
In September 2015, Vasily Yablokov was invited to the commission on acceptance of the nine reclaiming plots with oil spills that happened three months ago. Employee of Greenpeace Russia had claims to all the locations and they have been recorded in the dissenting opinion. At some locations there was a small residual contamination, some still had to work on the restoration of topsoil and posttreatment from oil.
'These nine locations became known as "locations of Greenpeace" and this was their official name. The work has been done to clean up oil pollution, some locations were passed to the commission. Despite some points of criticism during the acceptance, deposited locations strikingly differed from what we have seen during the seminar field trips just three months ago. We are pleasantly surprised at the rapid reaction of oilers and supervisory agencies, it was an example of how it should work,' Vasily Yablokov said.
In July 2016, bloggers, journalists and environmentalists came to Usinsk with the information support of the online journal «7x7». Within two days, they examined the oil spill site and talked with local residents who lived along one of the most polluted rivers in the Republic of Komi – Kolva. Participants of the blog tour visited accident sites that have been discovered in 2014. As it turned out, no one cleaned there.
One of the participants of the trip, a member of the oldest and largest in the Komi ecological public organization "Committee to Save Pechora" Ivan Ivanov photographed barrels of oil that were left in the forest. The same picture and from the same angle was made in 2014. Barrels are still there.
'We'll have to write another appeal'
According to Vasily Yablokov, despite the fact that at the time of the blog tour of July 6-8 the participants re-recorded numerous oil spills, the overall situation in this respect has improved considerably compared to what it was a few years ago.
'It used to be more oil. Three years ago the field was completely killed. Now it is visually cleaner. At some locations that we mentioned a year ago, they made high-quality restoration,' said the employee of Greenpeace Russia.
However, the participants of the trip once again convinced that the accompanying oil companies efforts were not enough. Journalists and bloggers saw the trenches filled with oil, dead birds, residual contamination in the swamp, traces of oil on the trees after "reclamation". All this violate many provisions of the Russian legislation.
'This year we went to other locations. And almost nothing has changed there. This year we will write another appeal. They [the oil companies], apparently, react by portions. We want to believe that the example of 2015, when work was carried out at nine locations, was not a trivial window-dressing, that this was an example of how to systematically tackle the problem of oil pollution. Reported – removed – reported, while changing rusty and leaky pipes,' said the representative of Greenpeace Russia.
Participants of the blog tour found a new accident near place where "Oil Patrol" cleaned oil in 2014.
'It happened in winter or spring. Wood died there,' Vasily Yablokov said.
'If you have questions on specific locations, give the coordinates'
According to Deputy General Director of Public Relations "Lukoil-Komi" Sergey Makarov, the dynamics of cleaning old oil spills under Usinsk is positive. 50 out of 113 were removed by well-known companies of oil sludge tanks (pits).
'We have a plan to make sure that in a year or two old spills disappear. We are working on pipeline replacement. Over the past two years we have doubled the pace of the pipes replacement. This is an old heritage, and it leaves its mark. But we have confidence that the old heritage will be removed,' Sergey Makarov said.
The representative of "Lukoil-Komi" did not agree with the amount of violations found in 2014. In his opinion, there were not 205, but about a third less.
'Our environmentalists did not confirm some of those sites given by the employees of Greenpeace. Did they go through all the locations ? Approximately one-third was not confirmed. Greenpeace said that there was oil and moss. So, there are the wrong coordinates. But if there are questions on specific locations, give the coordinates. We will check with our information. Yablokov, as I understood, is going to give these coordinates,' the representative of "Lukoil-Komi" said.
Video shot and edited during the training workshop of Greenpeace Russia in July 2015
Greenpeace is concerned about the situation not only in Usinsk. The problem of oil spills is common for all the oil-producing regions.
Maxim Polyakov, «7x7»