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Dire threat from oil spills to Arctic ecology, warn environmental campaigners

By The Siberian Times reporter
15 August 2012

Both Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund are expressing grave concern at the risk of contamination in the Pechora Sea.

Prirazlomnaya Oil platform, Pechora Sea. Picture: Gazprom.ru

'I am in Russia to draw attention to the commercial development of the Arctic. 

'The ice is melting, opening up access to offshore oil giants such as Shell and Gazprom. 

'Oil companies tell us that they are ready for emergency situations and follow the highest environmental standards, yet Gazprom's oil spill mitigation plan expired last month and scientists say their preparations are completely inadequate,' warned Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo at a press conference in Moscow. 

'They are playing fast and loose in one of the most treacherous and fragile environments on the planet.

'Shell argues that it has a world class response system in place in Alaska, and yet according to experts no proven way of removing oil from ice even exists. The findings of Russian scientists we are sharing today is the same: Gazprom is not able to effectively deal with spills in such harsh conditions.'

Scientists at the Russian centre Informatica Riska ran computerised risk models on various oil spill scenarios on the platform Prirazlomnaya to calculate the total area which which could be blighted by an oil spill. 

'We could often observe conditions when the operating company will not be able to contain and recover the spill. For example, if a spill occurred at night or under adverse meteorological conditions,' said Valentin Zhuravel, project manager at Informatica Riska. 'This can lead to significant pollution in the Pechora Sea coast and protected areas.'

Tens of thousands of possible scenarios were analysed, with the conclusion that the area of possible contamination covers over 140,000 square kilometers of open water and 3,000 km of coastline.

This is equivalent to the size of Ireland, and it includes three protected areas located 50-60 km from the Prirazlomnaya oil platform: the Nenetsky natural reserve, as well as two wildlife preserves, Vaigach and Nenetsky. These reserves are home to walruses and countless species of birds. 

Prirazlomnaya Oil Platform, Pechora Sea

Prirazlomnaya Oil platform, Pechora Sea. Picture: Gazprom.ru

The environmental activists claim Gazprom 'does not include any funds for animal rescue in its oil spill response plan'.

'There are no technologies to effectively remove the oil after a spill in the Arctic. For example, the list of equipment the operator of Prirazlomnaya has available to clean the shores includes 15 shovels, 15 buckets and one sledgehammer,' said Igor Chestin, director of WWF-Russia. 

'Since we do not have the technology to guarantee the mitigation of the consequences of an oil spill, we shouldn't even talk about industrial development in the offshore Arctic shelf'.

Greenpeace and WWF want to get their message across to the Kremlin and the Russian government, and they are signaling concern that is likely to go wider as oil and gas exploitation takes place further east from the Pechora Sea in coming years. 

President Vladimir Putin recently stressed the importance of keeping the Arctic clean even as Russia plans significant energy exploration in the region in the coming decade. 

'We will increase our efforts and work in many areas here, developing new deposits and building new infrastructure, above all ports, roads, bridges and so on,' he said last month. 

'Of course, we will also bolster our military presence here too. In all of this work we will strive for a balance between development and preservation of the natural environment.'

Putin backed a clean-up effort in the Arctic of junk dating from the Soviet era which is polluting the environment.

He stressed the Arctic is 'an ecosystem of vital importance for the whole planet. 'We therefore need to take particular care of this region. Of course we will act carefully here, and in doing so we will need to put resources into environmental safety.'

The Pechora Sea - important for cod fishermen - has an average depth of only six metres. 

It is located at the southeastern portion of the Barents Sea and is bordered to the north by the island of Novaya Zemlya.

Comments (1)

good on them to raise it, and keep an eye on it
Sergey, Moscow
15/08/2012 14:27
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