Russia oil spills wreak devastation

By Nataliya Vasilyeva

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 17 2011 11:05 p.m. MST

—Canada, which produces oil in weather conditions as harsh as Russia's, does not see anything near Russia's scale of disaster. Eleven pipeline accidents were reported to Canada's Transport Safety Board last year, while media reports of leaks, ranging from sizable spills to a tiny leak in a farmer's backyard, come to a total of 7,700 tons a year.

—In Norway, Russia's northwestern oil neighbor, spills amounted to some 3,000 tons a year in the past few years, said Hanne Marie Oeren, head of the oil and gas section at Norway's Climate and Pollution Agency.

Now that Russian companies are moving to the Arctic to tap vast but hard-to-get oil and gas riches, scientists voice concerns that Russia's outdated technologies and shoddy safety record make for a potential environmental calamity there.

Gazpromneft, an oil subsidiary of the gas giant Gazprom, is preparing to drill for oil in the Arctic's Pechora Sea, even as environmentalists complain that the drilling platform is outdated and the company is not ready to deal with potential accidents.

Government scientists acknowledge that Russia does not currently have the required technology to develop Arctic fields but say it will be years before the country actually starts drilling.

Valery Bratenkov works as a foreman at oil fields outside Usinsk. He used to point out to his Lukoil bosses that oil spills routinely happen under their noses and asked them to repair the pipelines. "They were offended and said that costs too much money," he said.

Locals like the 63-year-old Bratenkov are afraid that when big oil leaves, there will be only poisoned terrain left in its wake.

"Fishing, hunting — it's all gone," Bratenkov said.

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