Crying over split oil
HECTIC work is going on in order tominimi5e the consequences of anotherMajor oil spill in Russia. An accident atthe Tiiimazy-Omsk-Novosibirsk oilpipelinenear Ufa in Bashkortostan onDecember 26has contaminated theBelaya river which also runs through theneighbouring republic of Tatarstan.Bashkortostan environment ministerRustern Khamitov initially said thatonly 100 toifnes of oil had been discharged into the river but later revisedthis to 468 tonnes. HoweverMarsSafarova professor at Bashkiria StateUniversity says thatjudging from the size of the oil slick, the actual figure is probably somewhere near 2,400 tonnes. Estimates from Tatarstanbased on contamination levels at thetown of Aktanysh on the lower reachesof the Belayaput the figure even higher.
Ayrat Nasybullinan official of theTatar environment ministryestimatedthat up to 130tonnes of oil may havebeen releasedadding that oil concentrations at Aktanysh reached 69 timeshigher than the normal limit in someplaces. "The scale of the accident inBashkorto stan has been grossly 'understatedhe says. There is growing concern thatthe oil could spread downstream to Kama and Volga rivers, and then on to the Caspian Sea. Khamitov, however denied this saying, that this is unlikely and that the contamination is very patchy. He points out that at Blagoveshchensk, a town 20 km downstream from the accident site, oil concentrations are more or less normal.
Oil is no longer flowing through the 36-year-old pipeline which is to be raised from the seabed for inspection. Divers have so far been unable to locate the leak because of severe silting. So far, over 900 'tonnes of oil-water mix has been collected. In mid-January, clean- up workers began to burn off the oil when the ice on the river became too weak to support their operations. The burning was done at the site of booms placed across -the river to tryand stop it from moving downstream. However, the high temperature only served to dissolve the oil in water making easier for it to flow away. While the Belaya river is always polluted with chemicals and petrochemicals, oil concentrations on an average were reading five times more than the permissible limit - almost twice as high as usual.
Experts from the St Petersburg Institute of Hydrology, who are, now working at the site, claim that the spill is a major accident which has no precedent in Russia. However, -this does not take into account the incident of the Usinsky oil pipeline, rupture, in the Komi republic in the northwest Arctic in 1994, one of the world's worst ever oil spills which released an estimated 200,000 tonnes of oil. Clean-up is still going on and is expected to cost over us $140 million, financed partly by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as well as by the Komineft oil company which was held responsible for the mishap.
The present crisis evoked strong reactions from several ' quarters. Academician Alexei Yablokov, chairman of the Russian Security Council's interdepartmental commission for environmental safety, wants tougher actions against polluters.Only thencan numerous accidents at oil and gaspipelines be avoided"he says. Pointingat an estimate of 700 accidents per yearhe saidso far in only 10 per cent of the cases of leaks in gas and oil products the culprits can be found and fined.
As if this was not enough for theCommonwealth of Independent Statesthere has been a series of major spillsjust over the past few weeks.investigations are continuingfor exampleinto the cause of a major oil spill onJanuary 19 in the Russian republic ofAdyghea in Krasnodar territory. Morethan 400 tonnes of crude oil spilledfrom a ruptured oil pipeline nearDukshanov village polluting 18 hectaresof land which has now been cordonedoff. The ministries for civil defence andemergencies and natural disasters saysthat the damage to the Tikhoretsk-Tuapse pipeline was probably caused byoil thieves who tampered with a safetyvalve. Oil leaked into the Giaga riverand a nearby lake despite. makeshiftdams hastily built by emergency teams.Howeverfrost and snowslowed the spread of oilwhich at first spurted outof the pipeline in a50gusher.Tension is mountingbecause the spill is lessthan 12 krn from the Labariver which flows into theKuban river serving theKrasnodar reservoir.Some of the oil has beencollected and pumpedinto tanks and some morehas been burned off.
A 'few days earlierthere were more accidents in the Volgaregion and in the Arctic. An oil slick wasdiscovered on January 16 in theSyzranka river in the Samara region ofthe Volga river basin. It was thought tohave leaked from acorroded underwater stretch of the Syzran-Volnoyepipeline. The slick covered a 2.5-krnstretch of the riverand emergencyteams are still trying to collect the oilwhich is trapped under ice.
There are fears that when the icemeltsthe oil may reach the Volga riverwhich the Syzranka joins just eight kmdownstream. The Volga is also in danger from a spill which occurred a weekbefore the Samara-Kuzmichi oilpipeline was ruptured spilling approximately 500 tonnes of oil 10 km south-west of Saratov. This has also beenattributed to corrosion. The rupture isfour krn from the Volga.
Official reports initially put the spillat 100 tonnesbut clean-up operationshave already resulted in the collection of150tonnes. A member of the local ecology committee estimates the leak. to bearound 500 tonnes. "A dam is beingbuilt to try and contain thr pollutedwater but there is a real danger that oilcould reach the Volga in4he springthaw."
In the northwest Arctic region onJanuary 16some 70 tonnes of oil leakedfrom a hole in the Ukhta-Yaroslavlpipeline about six krn from the town ofKotlas in the Archangelsk region. Workis underway to collect and burnoff theoil despite severe winter conditions inorder to prevent it from reaching theSevernaya Dvina river. This came after amajor rupture of the same pipeline onDecember 24spewing over 400 tonnesof oil over an area of 50hectaresoverhalf of it under ice.
Oil alsopolluted theRopcha Five@ which flowsinto the Vym) Vychegdaand Severnaya Dvinarivers. So farover 800cubic metres of oil mixedwith contaminated soilsnow and ice has been collected.
Yet another majorclean-up operation is currently underway followingan oil spill in the Permarea. Over 250 tonnes ofoil . spoute .d from theSurgut-Polotsk oil pipeline on January 11as a result of damagecaused during earth-moving work inTyoplaya Gorasome 175 km tothenortheast of Perm. Some 65 hectares ofland has been contaminatedand thePerm Environmental ProtectionCommittee estimates clean-up costs. atRs 6.7 billion.
All these mishaps indicate there is aneed for the modernisation of oil industry in Russia. Oil production in the erstwhile USSR reached its peak in 1989at557million tonnes. Ever since then thefigure is fallingpartly because easy-to-access resources have been used upbutmainly because of sihortage and poorquality of equipment. It is impossible toreplace the 100 million tonnes of productive capacity which is put out ofoperation every year. There are nowalmost 450oil wells standing idleover 30 per cent of the total - waitingfor spare parts and basic maintenance.Of Russia's 858 operational oil deposits474are not performing to designedcapacity.
A system of environmental protection inspection with a* right to apply tough sanctions on polluters of the environment has to be established in Russia,says Yablokov. "Impunityengenders unwillingness on the part ofthe oil sector managers and the localauthorities to seek funds to renovateoutworn oil pipelineshe explains.
Russia has some 50,000 km of export pipelines, 20 per cent of which have been in operation for over 30 years, and half for over 20 years. The ministry of fuel and power has been pressing for a special fund to finance pipeline upgrading. The ministry says these lack anti-corrosion coatings and have inadequate monitoring systems. This reduces their service life from 15-20 years to a maximum of 10 years. Around 4,095 km of pipeline had to be repaired in 1994 but less than 1,500 has been done.