Staunton, May 22 – The widespread attention to the oil spill in Norilsk a year ago and to more recent spills in the Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets districts and Tula oblast is a positive development, but Russian companies are failing to report other spills or doing so in ways that limit the ability to correct problems, World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace experts say.
In the last week alone, these environmentalists say, there have been four spills in the Russian North. Most are small compared to the Norilsk disaster, but even so, the companies involved have either failed to report them at all, reported them inaccurately, or reported them late (plus-one.ru/ecology/ekologi-edva-li-my-znaem-o-realnom-masshtabe-utechek-topliva-v-rossii).
Because neither the Russian government nor the public sphere has adequate monitoring capabilities, the failure of the companies to report these disasters means that the public is not aware and can’t make demands. The environmentalists said they are especially concerned about the propensity of companies to report a problem as newer than it really is.
That is because while the technology exists to contain spills, the technology to clean up water mixed with oil is less well developed. If the authorities are brought in early enough, they can prevent small spills from becoming major problems. But the companies feel they are obeying the law by reporting the problem even if they are advancing the date of its onset.
Aleksey Knizhnikov of the WWF says that “mineralized water that has become mixed with oil can be more dangerous than oil itself.” And that means that once such a substance appears, it takes a very long time before there can be any hope that the affected watersheds will be clean enough to support plant and animal life.
Satellite photography, he and other experts say, shows that the spills in the Kolva River occurred far earlier than the companies involved say; and that means that what look like small oil spills in fact become large ones because the slurry of oil-contaminated water flows down stream into larger rivers and even the Arctic Ocean.