The Komi Republic in northern Russia is renowned for its many lakes, but sites contaminated by oil are almost just as easy to find in the Usinsk oilfields. From pumps dripping oil and huge ponds of black sludge to dying trees and undergrowth — a likely sign of an underground pipeline leak — these spills are relatively small and rarely garner media attention.
But they add up quickly, threatening fish stocks, pasture land and drinking water. According to the natural resources and environment minister, Sergei Donskoi, 1.5m tonnes of oil are spilled in Russia each year. That’s more than twice the amount released by the record-breaking Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The main problem, according to the natural resources ministry, is that 60% of pipeline infrastructure is deteriorated. And with fines inexpensive and oversight lax, oil companies find it more profitable to patch up holes and pour sand on spills — or do nothing at all — than invest in quality infrastructure and comprehensive cleanups, according to activists.