Confusion over Russian oil spill reports

Environmentalists have played down an alarmist estimate of an oil spill in Russia’s Komi region disclosed by environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor earlier this week and widely publicised in the Russian media.

Rosprirodnadzor head Svetlana Radionova earlier this week said that a ruptured pipeline at the South Oshskoye field had leaked about 1000 cubic metres (more than 7000 barrels) of a mixture of oil and water into the Kolva river in the north of the country.

However, unusually for Russia, where authorities often understate the consequences of ecological disasters, a local environmental group says the spill has been exaggerated.

Ivan Ivanov, chairman of the Save Pechora Committee, told Upstream that residents living near the Kolva had not seen any traces of oil on the river’s surface in the past several days.

Ivanov said that local prosecutors suggested its was just a minor oil leak of one cubic metre.

To add to the confusion, after looking at photographs released by Rosprirodnadzor, another regional expert estimated the leak might not exceed 200 cubic metres, but with oil remaining on the ground, not draining into the Kolva, Ivanov said.

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The pipeline is operated by Russian’s independent producer Nobel Oil, which initially denied the spill, Radionova said.

Nobel Oil told Rosprirodnadzor it was conducting oil spill response exercises that the local authorities had apparently mistaken for a real event.

In second statement on the alleged incident in her social network channel, Radionova said that Rosprirodnadzor inspectors will monitor Nobel Oil facilities in the Komi region to “keep the company responsible for committed violations”.

Nobel Oil’s regional office in Usinsk told Upstream they have no knowledge of the incident. A secretary in the company’s Moscow office said an executive who is able to speak on the issue is on a business trip and cannot be contacted promptly.

According to Moscow business daily Kommersant, until the end of 2020 Nobel Oil was owned by Russian businessman Grigory Gurevich, with China Investment Corporation and Hong Kong-based Oriental Patron Financial Group holding minority stakes.

However, the three shareholders passed control over the company to Cyprus-registered Sarenoti that, according to Kommersant, acts on behalf of Bekkhan Agayev, a son of Russian oil businessman and parliament member Vakha Agayev who died in 2020.

Nobel Oil — which is not related to a producer of the same name in Azerbaijan — operates seven oil and gas fields in the Komi and Khanty-Mansiysk oil provinces, with estimated production of 6500 barrels per day, and is also engaged into exploration of five blocks in these two regions.

The Kolva river crosses the regional oil province which is dominated by Russian oil producer Lukoil before flowing into another regional stream, the Usa. The Usa River drains into the Pechora river which then traverses the Komi region before reaching the Barents Sea.

Ivanov said the Save Pechora Committee will continue to gather information from local residents and wait for Kolva water samples before deciding whether “it is worth to send its own expedition” to the alleged accident site.